What the Manifestos Mean for Food, Agriculture and Sport

With yesterday’s SNP manifesto launch north of the border, the seven days of ‘Manifesto Week’ have drawn to a close. Much for political wonks like ourselves here at FH to chew over but, we would have to admit, little has emerged that purports to be any sort of ‘game changer’ that will boost the chances of one of the main parties getting the keys to Number 10. Our Food, Agriculture and Sport (FAS) team has been looking at what the manifestos mean for those sectors respectively.

On the one hand we have the parties fighting over themselves to be the ‘champions’ of food producers. The Labour party has its “long term strategy for the sector” in promoting the “best of British produce”, the Conservative party – “25 year plan to grow more, buy more and sell more British food”, and the Lib Dems’ – “National Food Strategy to promote the production and consumption” of food. The manifestos also point out the importance of community pubs, with the Conservatives, Lib Dems and Plaid Cymru promising to both protect it and focus resources on keeping them alive.

On the other, we have the parties fighting over themselves to be tough on certain products. The Labour Party “will set maximum permitted levels of sugar, salt and fat in foods marketed substantially to children”, the Lib Dems will “restrict the marketing of junk food to children, including restricting TV advertising before the 9pm watershed”, and the Conservatives have pledged to “reduce childhood obesity and continue to promote clear food information”. The role alcohol plays in crime and health harm is also specifically mentioned in the manifestos. The Lib Dems pledge to introduce Minimum Unit Pricing (MUP), the Conservatives plan to introduce a new alcohol monitoring tag, and the Labour party commit to taking targeted action on high strength alcohol products. Both the SNP and Plaid Cymru have also highlighted their support for MUP.

The trick in government, of course, is how to ensure that regulation does not stifle industry investment and innovation. This balance was maintained during the 2010-15 session largely through a rolling set of voluntary pledges delivered via the Responsibility Deal and a food industry regulator kept busy by exercising its food safety responsibilities. Now, on the eve of a new Parliament, the Responsibility Deal looks like it is listing – with its performance under scrutiny from NGOs, industry and Government alike. Westminster and Whitehall, mindful of the increasing calls to regulate parts of the industry from government at a local and devolved level, may well also look to intervene and be seen to take action on populist issues. Will this mean a resurrection for the Food Standards Agency or will Public Health England take up the mantle as the arbiter of the nation’s diet?

Elsewhere, the parties all pay differing attention to physical activity. As has been known since the Labour Party’s Health paper at the beginning of this year, they have placed a greater emphasis on physical activity than the other parties, putting it at the heart of their health strategy over the next five years. Physical activity is mentioned in the other manifestos: the Conservatives say they will “continue to invest in participation and physical activity” and the Liberal Democrats pledge to “promote evidence-based ‘social prescribing’ of sport, arts and other activity to help tackle obesity…and work to widen the evidence base”. Whilst the role of sport/activity is not referenced in the SNP’s document, Plaid point out the positive impact physical activity can have on wellbeing.

There are wider business-related issues that these sectors will be following particularly closely. For example, Labour’s plans to eradicate zero-hours contracts and the Conservative and Lib Dem proposals to stamp out their abuse; all three parties’ commitment to increasing the minimum wage and; a focus on apprenticeships, with Labour guaranteeing every school leaver that gets the right grades an apprenticeship, the Conservatives wanting to treble the number of apprenticeships in food, farming and agri-tech, and the Lib Dems promising a “major expansion of high-quality and advanced apprenticeships”. The Parties all touch on business rates, again to varying degrees. The Labour Party pledge to cut and then freeze the rates, with the other parties committing to extending, and then completing, a business rates review.

So to conclude, looking at the manifestos we can detect an underlying cross party consensus on a number of issues – in particular the need for greater regulatory intervention on selected food and drink products (even if there are differences of opinion over the vehicle) and a growing appreciation of the role physical activity can play in public health. How, whether and when these policies materialize will be the subject of a future article from FH once we know the composition of the new Government and the size of its majority in the new Parliament.