HAYES IN THE HOUSE: By MP John Hayes
South Holland is the food heartland of Great Britain, home to a good deal of the most productive arable land in the country, together with some of the most efficient food businesses. Our fertile land has fuelled the local economy ever since the drainage of the Fens, but the root of local prosperity predates the work of the Dutch engineers, the Wash being described as ‘the richest area of England in 1334’.
Our agricultural heritage is undisputed, and today it’s estimated that 20 per cent of all Britain’s foodstuff passes through South Holland. With the creation of the new Food Enterprise Zones, such as the one at Holbeach, we can build yet closer ties between food, farming and the future; helping our local firms, creating hundreds of jobs, and boosting investment in the rural economy.
It’s not just in our part of Lincolnshire that food production makes such a difference to the economy; the contribution of growing and farming to the British economy is enormous, with food and farming generating £100 billion a year and employing one in eight people. Agriculture remains Britain’s largest manufacturing sector, bigger than cars and aerospace put together!
British producers are now exporting more than ever; shipping food worth £19 billion to over 200 countries and territories, with the UK opening up hundreds of new overseas markets since 2010. Amongst them perhaps the biggest success is China, which, since 2012, has become the biggest export market for British pork – bringing in £214 million a year for our economy. With a growing Chinese appetite for our beef, dairy products and lamb, the prospects look good.
We must also do more to promote British foods here at home. So, the Government has made it easier for schools, hospitals and the public sector to buy quality local food, rather than being forced to opt for the cheapest product from whatever the source. It is important that food and farming is back on the school curriculum so that children are not only being taught how to cook, but also learning where food begins. Buying British is best, and we should never tire of saying so.
Supporting our growers and producers matters, which is why, when a Minister in the Department for Business, I supported the advent of a Groceries Code Adjudicator with power to punish, through fines, unfair practices by supermarkets. The Adjudicator has recently demanded answers from Morrisons following accusations that the retail giant expected small suppliers to pay retrospective charges, whilst simultaneously a major investigation into Tesco is proceeding. Local growers and food firms deserve nothing less than our full backing in coping with these soulless, profit hungry multinationals.
I’m proud of South Holland’s prominence as the food basket of Britain. With new investment securing our area’s primacy in food and farming, we can look to the future with confidence.