Farming News - NFU Virtual Conference: Keir Starmer will urge government to buy more food from British farmers

NFU Virtual Conference: Keir Starmer will urge government to buy more food from British farmers

23 Feb 2021
Frontdesk / Finance

The 2021 NFU Conference is being held today ( 23rd February) "virtually" due to ongoing restrictions. Speakers include Liz Truss,George Eustice,Tim Smith,Kier Starmer and President Minette Batters.

The government should buy more British food, Sir Keir Starmer will say in a speech to the National Farmers Union conference.

The Labour leader will also argue that the idea his party is anti-countryside is "more perception than reality".

Meanwhile NFU leader Minette Batters will urge politicians to address the gap between urban and rural areas.

Environment Secretary George Eustice is also expected to address the conference.

During his speech, Sir Keir is expected to say the government should look at whether more of its catering spend could go towards buying British food.

A 2014 government report said the public sector spent about £2.4bn on food for schools, hospitals and the armed forces.

Sir Keir will also argue that money from his proposed Covid Recovery Bond scheme could go towards helping rural communities, for example by investing in long-term flood protections.

The proposed bond, which Sir Keir outlined last week, would offer people a savings account with the government at a competitive interest rate - and the cash raised would then be spent on rebuilding the country post-Covid-19.

Sir Keir's appearance at the conference will be the first by a Labour leader since 2008 and he will use the opportunity to tackle perceptions of a "distance that has grown" between his party and rural communities.

He will argue that Labour has strong connections to the countryside, citing its support for protecting British food standards.

He will also tell the audience about his experience of working on a farm as a teenager as well as highlighting that Labour's first leader - Keir Hardie - was the son of a farmer.

"No party can claim to represent the country, if we don't represent the countryside," he will say.

During her conference speech, Minette Batters will warn of a gap between rural and urban communities and call for better broadband, more money to tackle crime and changes to the planning system.

Improved connectivity, she will argue, would help farmers diversify their businesses - for example by enabling them to run wedding venues or B&Bs.

"Investment in farming and in rural Britain not only brings about obvious benefits to food production but can have massive benefits to the whole country," Ms Batters will say.

"If the past 12 months has taught us one thing, it's that we are all in this together - and a country which levels up everyone, everywhere, is a stronger country."

Responding to the Labour leader's comments, a Conservative spokeswoman said: "It was Keir Starmer's political games as shadow Brexit secretary that kept us tied to the Common Agricultural Policy that has held our farming industry back for so long.

"The Conservatives are using our independence to deliver a better, fairer farming system in England, which will be tailored to the interests of farmers."

Credits: NFU Online/BBC