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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Meeting of the Parliament 21 September 2016

Agenda: Portfolio Question Time, NHS Staffing, Business Motion, Parliamentary Bureau Motions, Decision Time, Good Food from Angus


Contents


Good Food from Angus

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Linda Fabiani)

The final item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S5M-00302, in the name of Graeme Dey, on promoting good food from Angus. I presume that it refers to the place rather than the person. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament welcomes the establishment of The Food Life in Angus; understands that this collective is made up of local producers and aims to promote good food from Angus; believes that this is part of a growing effort across Scotland to promote good quality, sustainable and local food; welcomes the Scottish Government’s commitment to implementing the Good Food Nation policy, and notes calls for it to take further steps to promote Scotland’s food and drink sector, including the appointment of a National Chef to champion Scottish produce.

17:04  

Graeme Dey (Angus South) (SNP)

I thank colleagues on the Scottish National Party, Labour and Green benches for supporting the motion, thereby enabling the debate to be brought to the chamber. I also thank those colleagues who have remained behind to support the debate this evening.

There was a time not so long ago when I might not have been able to stand up in the chamber and extol the virtues of a thriving, diverse Angus-based food and drink sector. Back in 2011, as a new member of the Rural Affairs, Climate Change and Environment Committee, I attended the Royal Highland Show and dropped in on a fantastic event that was being hosted at the Scotland’s Rural College stand. In essence, it pitched areas of the country against one another in a food wars contest, allowing visitors to sample produce from each competing region and vote for the best one.

Front and centre in that event was the wonderful—and sadly lamented—savour the flavours initiative from Dumfries and Galloway. I recall returning from the show and dashing off a letter to our local council asking whether it could pull together such an offering and help to promote it on behalf of Angus. I recall even more clearly the response that I received, which was disappointing to say the least. However, times change, and Angus has begun to develop a reputation for more than just smokie, soft fruit, game and preserves production, hugely important though those are.

Now, when people think of Angus, they also think of the high-end vodka and gin that are produced by Ogilvy Spirits and Arbikie highland estate distillery. I credit Alison Smith, the head of economic development at the council, and her team for helping to facilitate the upsurge in interest in what the county has to offer. Given the response that I received back in 2011, it is heartening nowadays to hear local food and drink businesses praising the council for the support that it provides for them.

Alongside all that, there is the emergence of the food life: a group of local Angus businesses that have come together to put Angus on the map—as they say—for its excellent food and drink, and to make local produce available to residents and visitors alike.

If members in any way doubt the progress that has been made in this area, they should look at the four nominations for the rural parliament’s innovators award for Angus, which was established to mark the rural parliament coming to Brechin early next month. Three of those nominations were food and drink related. First, there was the aforementioned Ogilvy Spirits, which is an award-winning farm diversification project masterminded by Graeme and Caroline Jarron, who use home-grown potatoes to make vodka and the base spirit for gin and who have now branched out into cocktail mixes.

There was also Angus farmers market, which is held regularly in Forfar and Montrose. A final contender for the award was the food life: the collective of Angus-based fishermen, farmers, retailers, food vendors and primary producers. Earlier this week, the food life was announced as the winner—and a popular winner at that. I dropped in on one of the group’s pop-up food events a few weeks ago and was amazed to see the turnout from far and wide to support it. The queues for the Artisana patisserie van, Muckle Backit Oven pizzas, Sacred Grounds Coffee beans, Kirrie Ales and the Gin Bothy were heartening to say the least, especially considering that the location of the gathering was not a well-populated Angus town but the small coastal settlement of Easthaven—a venue that would have required pretty much every visitor to travel a decent distance. There is no doubt that the food life has struck on something.

Equally, there is no doubt that the food and drink sector in general is thriving in Angus and is gaining a national and international reputation. Ogilvy Spirits and Arbikie highland estate distillery—which is located in my Angus South constituency—are at the forefront of that. Arbikie has just won two gold medals at The Spirits Business’s first luxury masters competition and is now branching out into whisky as well as gin and vodka, including chilli vodka. Its products are being sold to the USA, Hong Kong, China, mainland Europe and the Caribbean. Ogilvy Spirits has won a raft of international awards. Having focused initially on exporting to the rest of the United Kingdom, the company is now actively exploring branching out into the Japanese, Malaysian, US and Australian markets.

All told, it is reckoned that the food and drink sector in Angus provides employment for in excess of 1,800 people, with a 2.5 per cent increase between 2014 and 2015. As those new elements prove their reliability and capability to supply on a scale, it is hoped that those who wish to do so, and whose products are suitable, will be afforded the opportunity to bid for public sector contracts. Supporting local businesses and shortening food supply chains must be part and parcel of procurement.

Having done the parochial bit, I will focus for a moment on Scotland’s performance on food and drink. In 2014, Scotland’s food and drink sector generated turnover of approximately £14.4 billion, up almost 3 per cent, and gross value added of approximately £5.3 billion, up 5.2 per cent from 2013. Food and drink manufacturing continues to account for a large share of the sector’s turnover, currently standing at 73 per cent, with a GVA of 71 per cent.

Over the period 2008 to 2014, turnover growth in Scotland’s food and drink manufacturing sector was 21.4 per cent. In that respect, it outperformed the sector in the UK, which had turnover growth of 13.3 per cent. That contrast is even more stark when we take Scotch whisky out of the equation. In Scotland and the UK, the growth has been driven by the increased turnover that has been generated by the food manufacturing sector. Between 2008 and 2014, the turnover of Scotland’s food manufacturing sector increased by 43 per cent, whereas the turnover of the sector in the UK increased by 21 per cent. In other words, the growth of food manufacturing in Scotland is running at twice the rate of the UK average.

The good news continues. Between 2008 and 2014, the level of research and development investment by Scottish food and drink companies doubled, and sales of Scottish brands in the UK have risen by around 35 per cent since 2007. Exports of food beyond the UK have risen by more than 50 per cent since 2007 and have broken the £1 billion barrier.

We must credit the producers for that positive picture, but we must also credit those who have played and are playing their part in promoting the sector. I am referring to people such as the former Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs, Food and Environment, Richard Lochhead, and James Withers and his team at Scotland Food and Drink.

Given the upward trajectory, we can, of course, do more. I would like to make the case that, as part of that process, the Scottish Government should seek to appoint a national chef, as per its manifesto commitment. It strikes me that we are missing a trick in that regard. Our food has a global reputation and we have chefs of international standing. There are cookery displays at every domestic food promotion event. Let us appoint one of those top-notch chefs to a role promoting Scottish produce and the multitude of dishes that it can deliver to an already receptive international audience.

Talking of good food, I would like to finish with a plug for the taste of Angus event that I am hosting in the members’ dining room immediately following the debate. It will afford members the opportunity to sample some of the best produce that Angus has to offer, along with the aforementioned vodka and gin.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

Thank you, Mr Dey. I look forward to taking up the invitation; that sounds good.

17:12  

Peter Chapman (North East Scotland) (Con)

I refer members to my interests in agriculture, which are listed in my entry in the register of members’ interests.

I am sure that colleagues across the chamber will join me in paying tribute to all those who have played a role in making the food life in Angus such an extraordinary success. I note that the food life has won the rural innovator award from the Scottish rural parliament, and I look forward to the opportunity to meet its team when I attend the rural parliament in Brechin at the beginning of next month.

Angus is well known as a county that produces some of our finest food, from the Angus glens that produce fine cattle and sheep to some of the most fertile soils in Scotland, in which malting barley, quality wheat, seed tatties and delicious fruit and vegetables are grown. Let us not forget Arbroath smokies—what a treat they are! As Graeme Dey rightly pointed out, gin has been added to that list, along with many other products. That is a testament to the unique combination of hard work, innovation and respect for tradition that makes our food production industry such an excellent field, if members will forgive the pun, especially when we enjoy such success in exporting our quality produce.

Despite the fact that produce of such excellent quality is grown in Angus, the people who produce those world-beating goods face significant challenges. Times are hard on Scotland’s farms and profits are difficult to find.

I am delighted to support our food and drink sector and, over the past fortnight, I have been fortunate enough to talk to many of the companies that have made such a success of Scottish produce. The produce of our food and drink sector has a value of £14.3 billion, which makes it the largest manufacturing industry in Scotland. That, allied to the fact that the industry is growing strongly, represents an incredible achievement by all those at Scotland Food and Drink and everyone in the supply chain that supports the sector.

Of course, as the motion rightly points out, national organisations cannot always drill down into the detail that is needed to promote the unique selling points of local areas and specialist products. The food life will fulfil within the fertile landscapes of Angus the role that Scotland Food and Drink performs for the whole country, and I congratulate my colleague Graeme Dey on securing this evening’s debate. We all need success stories such as that of the food life.

However, as most of us will be well aware, the billions of pounds that we hear so much about during Scottish food and drink fortnight are not making their way back to farmers. We know that the food chain is not working well, and farmers are taking far too much risk and putting in way too much effort for the meagre returns that they receive. That much is obvious, with farm profits falling every year for the past three years and Scottish farm debt at a record high of £2.2 billion, which is up 9 per cent, or £177 million, on the year.

We can continue with our success in food and drink only if we ensure that, as well as promoting quality produce, we look again at the whole supply chain. Too small a share of what the public spends on food flows back to the farmer, and the people who produce the raw material on which our successful food and drink industry is built must get a fair share of the cake if they are to survive and to continue to produce some of the finest food in the world.

17:16  

Rhoda Grant (Highlands and Islands) (Lab)

I, too, congratulate Graeme Dey on securing this debate on the importance of food and drink in Angus. His motion pays tribute to the food life in Angus group, which is working to promote Angus as a foodie destination.

As others have pointed out, with the success of the Arbroath smokie, the group already has a head start. When the smokie secured protected status, my constituents and I were inspired to seek similar protection for Stornoway black pudding, with similar success. It is important that the Parliament celebrates the excellence of our products and protect their names and reputations.

In his motion, Graeme Dey congratulates the food life in Angus on winning the Angus section of the Scottish rural parliament’s rural innovator awards. He then goes on to congratulate the other winners, which included Bùth Bharraigh, the cosy homes east Sutherland scheme, Sleat community council, Sula Brookes and her dynamic dancers and dancing monkeys classes, Inspired by Autism, Ulva ferry local development office, the Rockfield centre, the Mull and Iona sustainable transport project and the Mull and Iona food trail, all of which are located in the Highlands and Islands. The food life group is therefore in very good company indeed.

It is good to see collectives achieving such recognition. The food life in Angus is very similar to Bùth Bharraigh, which is a community-owned co-operative run by and for small businesses on Barra and Vatersay. It provides local businesses with a shop to sell their produce in, which is something that none of them could have been able to sustain on their own, and its success has given local people access to local crafts and produce, something that they previously had only on an ad hoc basis—if they knew the supplier, for example.

There are challenges for such enterprises. I know Bùth Bharraigh has had difficulty finding affordable premises of the size that it requires; its current shop is due to be demolished, and it is struggling to find an alternative. The location of the shop is important, because Bùth Bharraigh wants it to be close to the pier and harbour to make the most of the increase in the number of cruise ships coming to the islands. Some of the alternative locations are some distance away and although they would still be accessible to locals, they would not be as accessible to visitors, who might not know where to look.

I have met the co-op members, the council and community councils, and I will continue to work with them on finding a solution. It is really important that that co-op is able to continue the success that it has had in growing small businesses. Given that, because of the cost of transporting food to the islands by ferry, food poverty is also a real issue in some of those areas, the ability to access high-quality local food is good not only for local businesses but for the health of the population. Some fantastic food is now available for sale locally.

Graeme Dey mentioned gin in his speech, and a mark of the success of Harris gin is that it recently ran out of bottles and had to ration stocks. Luckily, as I have just heard, it now has more bottles, and rationing has come to an end. As a result, there is delight all round.

Given how important it is for the Parliament to recognise organisations that make such contributions to their communities, I am happy to join in congratulating the food life on its innovation and success.

17:19  

Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP)

It is cruel that Graeme Dey has brought to Parliament today the subject of promoting good food from Angus, because today is one of my two no-food days in an attempt to contain the ever-expanding waistline. That is caused entirely by my love of food, much of which is good-quality Scottish food. I am not necessarily pleased with my colleague about that.

Graeme Dey omitted, of course, one of the gems of his area that I and others enjoy: the Forfar bridie. I am quite mystified by that. I understand that it has protected status. I beg your pardon—I have just had a whisper from Graeme Dey that the Forfar bridie might be from Angus but it is not from his constituency. Therefore, he may be forgiven.

I thought to myself that we might pray for an Indian summer. We have not put the barbecue away, and I see a smokie sitting on our barbecue wrapped in a piece of tinfoil with some Graham’s spreadable butter, which includes oilseed rape, of course. That was brought to the peak of culinary excellence by a farmer on a farm adjacent to Peterhead. It is, of course, Scottish butter. The smokie would also have garlic from Elgin. I now know that, while watching and smelling that delicious food from Angus cooking on the barbecue, I would be able to sip gin from an Angus distillery. Even better, we could get sloes from Dumfriesshire, which is the best place to get them from, and make sloe gin whose sweetness would absolutely augment that food.

I am beginning to slaver in anticipation of the event that will take place at 6 o’clock. There are still 350 calories that I am allowed to eat today, so I hope to join Graeme Dey.

Notwithstanding the excellent food from Angus, we are missing the crème de la crème of food. I have a secret deal that I will reveal for the very first time. At the election before the most recent one, my Conservative opponent was a fisherman called Michael Watt, whom I get on with extremely well—he is a very nice chap. He supplies me with cod roe. There is nothing on earth that I love more than cod roe. We will have to move it up the food chain, as well. I think that the new name for it is Scottish white caviar. I look forward to seeing its being marketed as that.

In all seriousness, the Scottish Government, with the support of members across the chamber, promotes the good food nation policy, because what we eat determines our health, our girth and much of our economy. Peter Chapman correctly referred to the economic value of good-quality food. We are not going to compete with the rest of the world on price where food is concerned—that is very unlikely; there are very few things that we can compete with on price—but we will always be able to compete on quality.

I am delighted to find that Angus is stepping up to the mark in seeking to meet and perhaps even overtake at some distant point in time the quality of the food that we have produced for many years in the north-east of Scotland.

I congratulate the food producers of Angus on their efforts and look forward to tasting more of them in the future. It is not just about farmers, of course. I also look forward to eating the ripening brambles that I see on my hedgerows as part of the natural foraging that provides excellent food from Scotland’s nature bounty, which we can all enjoy.

17:24  

Alex Johnstone (North East Scotland) (Con)

It gives me great pleasure to congratulate Graeme Dey on bringing the motion before Parliament and to join him in welcoming the establishment of the food life in Angus to promote good food from Angus.

The farming industry in Scotland has been at the cutting edge of development for most of its time. It is important to remember that we are an industry that is capable of producing on both the large and the small scale and that what we have achieved in recent years in particular is a skill in the production, processing and marketing of food products that has made us still more of a world leader. It is that innovation that has allowed us to continue to express ourselves in the production of food on both the large and small scale. Nowhere focuses that more accurately than Angus, where the very large and very small exist side by side and are equally successful.

I must say a few words about Stewart Stevenson and his continual complaints about girth: it is something that we need to learn to tolerate, Stewart. I can assure everyone that I am not having a no-food day.

Stewart Stevenson

May I, through the chair, remind the member that I have done a deal with his wife to keep an eye on his waistline, because while I continue to oppose him politically, I value him as a person and a contributor to the human race.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

Be gracious, Mr Johnstone.

Alex Johnstone

I thank the member for his concern. He did mention, however, his habit of putting smokies on the barbecue. Some might like that sort of thing, but I have to say that they have never tasted a smokie until they have tasted it right off the fire; only then, when it is hot, newly cooked and still has the fresh taste of the smoke about it, will they understand the significance of the smokie in its natural environment.

Angus has demonstrated a great deal of ingenuity in food production over the years. For example, the soft fruit industry that exists there and in surrounding counties was once an industry that produced fruit only in a single season, often all ripening on the same day, but it is now an industry that has extended its growing season massively over the period of the summer to one that runs from spring to autumn, and it has become a vital part of our economy.

However, it has to be said that that vital part of the economy is very dependent on labour coming in from other countries. I will be seeking to work with farmers in Angus and surrounding areas to ensure that that supply of labour is not interrupted by any changes that are afoot.

Angus is also a great producer of staples. Potatoes, including seed potatoes, and grain production are large-scale operations in the county and many of the larger farmers demonstrate extremely high levels of efficiency in that.

There are fewer livestock in Angus now than there were in times past. Nevertheless, their quality remains extremely high and Forfar mart is one of the main focuses in the area for trading that livestock.

Yes, it is the case that we in Scotland are good at producing food. We are also good at processing it and good at selling it. The opportunity is there to give Scotland's food production industry its head. Given the right level of support, it is the people who are involved in the industry who will take it forward and show that ingenious ability to make profit from food production. That is why I would always encourage the minister to give support where he can but to have faith in the ability of the people in our farming and food producing communities.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

I call Fergus Ewing to close the debate. You have around seven minutes, please, cabinet secretary.

17:28  

The Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy and Connectivity (Fergus Ewing)

This has been an excellent debate, ably led by Graeme Dey, who paid excellent tribute to all the food producers from his constituency in Angus. He provided us with a comprehensive catalogue of mouthwatering temptations; indeed, the list of food and drink and successful produce and businesses was so long and tantalising that I thought that it was less of a speech and more of an à la carte menu. And why not? “Angus à la carte” has a certain ring to it, does it not? The breadth, depth and variety of the food and drink that farmers and businesses in Angus produce are quite remarkable and a great tribute to those people and to the success of food and drink in Scotland.

I thought that it was slightly churlish of Graeme Dey to spurn the Forfar bridie, which he did not include in his list of producers and foods. I have heard of instances of jilting the bride, but that must be the first instance of jilting the bridie, Presiding Officer. [Interruption.] Yes—members saw that one coming.

Stewart Stevenson talked about slavering. We will have to ask the Standards, Procedures and Public Appointments Committee to review the standing orders and to prohibit references to slavering in the future in order to ensure decorum and good conduct in this chamber.

Let me be serious. The growth of the food and drink sector has been remarkable, as Mr Dey and other members have said, and it is right to pay tribute to all those involved, not least the farmers, because when we use the phrase “food and drink” in Scotland we are not mentioning farmers and crofters, who are the people who actually produce the food. That is an omission that I have resolved to put right. I will continue to do so. The quality of the food and drink that is produced from Scotland’s natural larder is key to its success.

I acknowledge the leadership of my predecessor, Richard Lochhead, and the work of James Withers. I am proud to endeavour to continue their work. I think that in recent times the Scottish Government has been able to provide some practical assistance. For example, since 2008, 18 awards of food processing, marketing and co-operation grants totalling £23.3 million have been made to businesses in Angus alone. That shows the solid continuing contribution from the Scottish Government, which I hope we can maintain.

There have been a number of successful initiatives, some of which have been mentioned. The think local programme supported many initiatives over the past few years, such as the promotion of food from Argyll. The connect local service is delivered through a £3 million Government investment, to support local food and drink producers individually and collectively. The plans to establish a national chef have been mentioned; we will bring forward plans in due course, which will focus attention on the matter.

Our aspiration that Scotland becomes a good food nation is, I think, shared by all members and has many strands to it. For example, the aspiration is that it will become

“the norm for Scots to take a keen interest in their food”,

that

“People who serve and sell food—from schools to hospitals, retailers, cafes and restaurants—are committed to serving and selling good food”,

and that

“Everyone in Scotland has ready access to the healthy, nutritious food they need.”

That applies especially to children in disadvantaged circumstances. I am thinking of, for example, fresh salmon—our excellent farmed salmon sector is one of Scotland’s success stories, as I said when I opened the aquaculture Europe 2016 conference at the Edinburgh international conference centre yesterday evening—and venison, which is underrated but is, I understand, the most nutritious meat, and for which there might be more possibilities.

The Scottish Government established the Scottish Food Commission in the wake of the good food nation discussion. The commission is chaired by the estimable Shirley Spear, of The Three Chimneys fame. I think that we are working together, across parties, to promote the continuing success of Scotland’s food and drink.

Rhoda Grant mentioned Isle of Harris Distillers Ltd. While I was on holiday this year I had the pleasure of visiting the distillery and partaking of some of its produce. I recommend the distillery to all—as I do the other new gin and whisky distilleries throughout the country, which are another success story of recent years.

I do not know whether this is an apocryphal or a true story, but I heard that on the night of the formal opening of the Harris distillery, which produces excellent gin, people consumed every drop of the product that had been distilled up to then. If what I said is not true, it might be defamatory if it is interpreted in a negative way, which of course is not how I wish it to be interpreted. In seriousness, the success of our craft brewers—some of which, such as BrewDog, have grown to garner international fame—and new distilleries throughout the country, supported, I am pleased to say, by our enterprise network with a bit of encouragement of people such as me, has been part of the framework that has allowed Scotland’s food and drink industry to go from strength to strength.

My job is to continue that work. I pledge to do so with members from across the chamber. I value their support and appreciate that it does not seem to have been infected by the virus of party politics. Of all the things that unify us and dispel the somewhat partisan nature of our proceedings, there can be nothing that does so with greater effect than food and drink. I pay tribute to all the people from Angus who are here this evening and who have achieved so much from that county and for their country.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

I have been so busy thinking about what is going on at the Angus event that I almost forgot to turn on my microphone. I close the meeting.

Meeting closed at 17:36.