Buying the best of British

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BUY British has been a slogan fondly repeated by generation after generation of politicians but it is a custom more honoured in the breach than the observance.

At a time when swathes of British industry are desperate for business, there can rarely have been a better time for shoppers to check the origin of what they are buying – even more so in the case of the nation’s hard-pressed farmers.

Yet it is a shocking indictment of this country when even the Government department in charge of persuading the public sector to buy British is purchasing two-thirds of its food from overseas.

That the privately-run catering department at the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs buys only 30 per cent of its food from Britain is bad enough, but it flies in the face of a pledge by Ministers to support British farmers. It also contradicts a new Buying Standards code for Whitehall which calls on departments to buy food produced to UK production standards, which are far higher than many abroad.

It is particularly disappointing since some parts of Whitehall have been more successful in sourcing British food, notably the Department for Business Innovation and Skills, which says 85 per cent of its food is British.

Appeals by Ministers for consumers to buy British or shop locally ring particularly hollow when even their own departments cannot carry out their own instructions.

It will cut little ice with farmers that Ministers are hiding behind excuses that caterers would be breaking European trade rules if they only bought British produce.

The public sector purchases some £2bn of food a year and should be setting an example.

Ministers must instruct their own departments to rigorously enforce what is after all Government policy and, what is more, they should also extend the Buying Standards to other areas of the public sector, including schools and hospitals.

British farmers have led the way in producing quality food to the highest standards.

The least they should be entitled to expect is to be supported for their outstanding efforts by their own Government. Ministers pondering New Year resolutions should put this at the top of their lists.