|Food Policy, Devolution and Wales|
Who we are?
WFA members have been active in championing devolved government in Wales from 1978.The Welsh Food Alliance (WFA) was formed in March 1999 to support the process of devolution and citizen engagement in the development of food policy across all aspects of government. It is self-financed by its volunteers. During this period we have responded to over 150 consultations, organised many free public consultations, including five Welsh Youth Food Assemblies at the National Assembly building and a hustings for political parties on food issues prior to each Welsh General Election. We have also undertaken three older people's food surveys involving over 800 people from the comfort of their own homes. Part 2 of our current UK survey underlines the need to engage with citizens, the private sector, non-devolved public and professional bodies across the UK in addressing growing malnutrition in an ageing society.
In principle we support the NAfW being given further primary law making powers on the basis that legislative decisions affecting Wales should be taken for and by the people of Wales. We are aware that the complexity of LCO's has constrained and delayed the Government making necessary legislation in Wales and that across a range of issues a good case can no doubt be made for extending primary law making powers. If possible, we would welcome an independent audit of what has been achieved as a necessary basis for commanding public confidence in any proposal to extend primary law making powers.
We have confined our evidence to specific food policy issues well known to us and on which we have worked consistently over the past ten years. We are therefore aware of the mistakes that have been made and of the non-use of devolved powers to bring about incremental changes in food policy to improve the health and wellbeing of the people of Wales. We attempt to demonstrate that the failure has not necessarily been the absence of legislative powers, but as Scotland reminds us, of how essential understanding, listening to the evidence and then political will is required to take positive action to realise the promise of devolution.
Our comments on the legislative process show how the current system should have been more attentive to well evidenced representations - and then using devolved powers already available. Our experience has been that it is often not more primary law making powers, but civil service capacity, the political will and understanding to achieve 'connectivity' between different aspects of government and partner organisations, and to take action for the common good. We comment as follows on:
(a) The National Curriculum - practical food education
(b) School meals and Inter-generational health inequalities
(c) School meals: legislation or political will?
(d) Capacity and UK wide issues
(e) Wales in its UK context
(f) Local Health, Social Care and Wellbeing strategy
(g) Food standards
(h) Contribution to public policy and devolution
(i) Wales Food and Health Policy Council
(j) The necessity of UK wide partnership working and collaboration
The National Curriculum - practical food education
This is a policy area where the NAfW had the power to change legislation, but this has been strongly resisted, for example, by civil servants and some male local authority education advisers. Food teachers at a WFA public conference held in October 1999 alerted us to this issue. The following Monday we established a small working group with food teachers and produced precise recommendations to amend the National Curriculum Orders to mandate practical cookery within Design and Technology. This and other attempts to make change were strongly resisted between 1999 and 2007, despite warnings that unless action was taken quickly we would lose capacity to train future teachers due to the ageing profile of existing food teachers. We were supported by representation to the then Minister by the Association of Directors of Education in Wales. All of this was to no avail. Instead of taking a fresh look at how we implement an effective system, even supportive Assembly Members merely asked "what should we leave out of the National Curriculum in order to include practical cookery". No one appears to have been able to make a connection between practical food education and the Assembly statutory Sustainable Development scheme.
Necessary modest changes were finally introduced in 2008, but are we too late to make this effective? After much delay, is it now possible that we have insufficient specialist food teachers to properly deliver practical cookery at Key Stage 2 and that the supply of trained food teacher specialists requires attention? Are classrooms now properly equipped to deliver practical cookery after many years of neglect? Does Estyn employ a specialist food inspector, as is the case in Scotland, to cascade good practice between schools?
In diligently following an English and industry driven Design and Technology curriculum since 1989, what consideration did various official advisory bodies, the WJEC and others give to the public health concerns of growing child and young person obesity, and the serious consequences for their quality of life and future NHS expenditure? All of which have now come to pass. We observe that even with the lack of resources in the 1930s, they probably had a better system of food education than we have today and this matter should have been addressed in Wales many years ago with powers available well before 1997.
School meals and inter-generational health inequalities
Current policy places emphasis upon children, but this requires greater recognition of the crucial importance of nutrition for Preconception, Pregnancy/ Gestation, Birth and Infancy, which follows when young people create families. Very rarely do we have such a captive audience in terms of a single public health intervention. With school children and young people we have a once in a lifetime opportunity to directly improve health and reduce inter-generational health inequalities. We have been surprised by how little attention government has given to school meals as a key aspect of addressing child poverty in Wales. This is in sharp contrast to the more recent and very active role of the state in promoting free school breakfasts, which is centrally funded, with specific nutritional requirements. Why should this not equally apply to mid-day school meals, which could have provided a more focused use of scarce resources? If this were to occur it is possible that this would require primary legislation to remove this duty from local education authorities.
In response to a Welsh Secretary of State consultation in 1998, we argued for nutrient standards in school meals. Again, in response to the Child Poverty Task Group Consultation (2004), we state: "at page 83 of the consultation, brief reference is made to the nutritional value of school meals. Our understanding is that Ministers are aware of the poor nutritional quality of school meals, and the serious implications for health from unpublished Trading Standards Officers survey data, spanning 15 of 22 local authorities in Wales" (WFA letter, September 2004). This was followed up with detailed evidence in response to different consultations.
In 2008, with a proposed private member Assembly measure to introduce nutrient standards, a consultation question was asked about encouraging take up of school meals. In our view the key issue is not legislative, but that the significant costs arising from an increasing proportion of eligible pupils taking up school meals are a direct charge to the LEA. Whereas, the cost of free primary breakfasts is drawn down directly by the LEA from central government and is therefore not part of the local government settlement. Any measure to directly address this aspect must consider the perennial consequences of funding mechanisms used by LEAs. Our understanding is that this does not require new primary law making powers.
These issues have been around for a long time and certainly in our experience over the past three decades and more. We did not need an intervention by Jamie Oliver, which after a period of progress caused a serious reduction in the uptake of school meals, which was completely unrelated to the quality of service being provided by some local authorities in Wales. We have also expressed concern, in response to the 'Quality of Food' consultation (2007), about any further Assembly funds being spent on yet more reviews and literature searches. We recommended that such funds be targeted at addressing child poverty for children living in families in receipt of Family Credit (Now Working Families Tax Credit) who are currently not eligible for Free School Meals. In the current economic crisis this will get worse. Children and young people across the UK will continue to be disadvantaged until the tax credit thresholds set by the UK Treasury are amended. Presumably, this requires a change in UK primary legislation. However, with growing unemployment in the current economic crisis, priority should now be given to making it a direct charge of government to meet the costs of pupils in receipt of free school meals. In our view this would not require an extension of primary law making powers. Could the total Treasury funds made available to Wales, as a consequence of the Jamie Oliver school meals campaign be used for this purpose?
School meals: legislation or political will?
Members of WFA have campaigned for nutrient standards in school meals for several decades. In Scotland, to make a difference, Ministers recognised in 2003 that this required political will to challenge food manufacturing interests and extra resources put in the budget. Significantly, it was their procurement policy, not legislation, which required UK food manufacturers seeking contracts in Scotland, to alter the composition of food supplied to schools for the benefit of children and young people across the UK. Supported by much evidence, public health interests have argued for years for extra expenditure on food costs, staff training, equal pay, equipment and legislation to underpin nutrient standards in the provision of a mid day school meal. Why should nutrient standards become a reality in England but not in Wales? Without devolution we would now have nutrient standards in mid day school meals in Wales as required in England. All we are able to do in Wales today is to pilot these standards in a very limited number of schools in four local authority areas, share best practice and other very modest measures. Some of us who have strongly supported Welsh devolution from 1978 are right to ask, how will extending primary law making powers improve the situation in Wales?
It is worth noting that:
(i) Until proposed English nutrient standards legislation emerged, some officials in Wales were still claiming that different parts of the UK were seeking to achieve the same objectives but by different means. However, this is not the case. We do a disservice to children and young people in Wales by not taking prompt action. Delayed action means that increasingly large amounts of our NHS resources are being diverted to addressing child obesity, with mounting food related behavioural issues disrupting classrooms and achievement in our education system.
(ii) WFA, without any grant aid, has invested considerable resources in seeking to influence English school meals legislation, as this was felt to be a more fruitful way of bringing about change in Wales. That is in addition to substantially contributing to the internal Assembly Government 'Food in Schools' working group. We have sought to go beyond the question of devolution and understand how different countries of the UK and beyond learn from their differences and collaborate for the common good.
Capacity and UK wide issues
In supporting increased primary law making powers, it is essential to avoid over stretching limited civil service resources and expertise in Wales. We should make the best possible use of the contribution that civic society, and others, can make to the policy development process in Wales. This to be appropriately co-ordinated at the UK level and involving all interested parties. It is noted that Welsh Minsters are looking to have more power to make a difference in relation to, for example, nutrition. Assembly Government has now assumed the lead role in respect of food and nutrition policy as we move from the 'Food and Wellbeing' strategy (2003) to the forthcoming 'Quality of Food' Action Plan (2009). The latter was launched for consultation in the Autumn of 2007 and has yet to be published. Clearly, access to resources, expertise and a capacity to promote, support and engage with partner organisations are relevant considerations, for example, between the Food Standards Agency and Welsh Government Departments. Whereas, this is generally accepted in terms of Food Safety; in respect of nutrition policy this may become increasingly problematic.
This is not just a Wales issue. As all UK Health Ministers wish to become increasingly engaged with nutrition and obesity issues, it is equally relevant in FSAs relationship, for example, with the Department of Health (England). This has consequences for who is responsible for what, where previously FSA had a lead role. These issues were envisaged when WFA commented upon the pre-legislative scrutiny of the draft Food Standards Agency Bill (1999). One possible scenario could be similar to arrangements established in Scotland, but this would involve a greater level of financial support than the Assembly Government are currently able to provide.
This and other issues cannot necessarily be resolved by more primary legislation. As the forthcoming E - coli inquiry recommendations will probably demonstrate, food safety and public protection require the implementation and monitoring of existing legislation, and we stress the importance of collaboration and building trust between different tiers of government and the wider public. One key issue of growing importance will be for the FSA and the UK Government to properly engage with Welsh stakeholders in the context of increasing internationalisation of European food law. Would we wish primary law making powers to mandate food hygiene manager certification in Wales, or given that most of the 20,000 catering operations in Wales operate across the UK, as do most food retailers, would this not be an EU wide measure?
UK NVQ National Occupational Standards for food preparation and cooking are non-devolved. This has been an important issue for WFA. Following our 2005 public consultation with Welsh public sector caterers, WFA wrote to the responsible education and training official within the Assembly, without response, even after prompting. Subsequently, we focused our attention at a UK level, working with the Food Standards Agency to press People 1st, the Sector Skills Council, to revise their mandatory standards. Securing mandatory knowledge and understanding of nutrition will support workforce planning and development proposed by WFA. See the forthcoming WAG 'Quality of Food Action Plan' (2009).
Wales in its UK context
Due to its size and resources, issues whether devolved or non-devolved impacting upon Wales are not unique, and need to be approached in an internationalist manner. For example, this will include work with a range of organisations at the UK level to address the problem of growing malnutrition in an ageing society. They include: Skills for Health, Skills for Care, People 1st, the National Catering Care Association, the Royal College of Nursing, the General Medical Council, the Nursing and Midwifery Council, Counsel and Care, Action on Elder Abuse, UK food retailers and food service operators. We observe that even where Welsh based aspects of UK organisations promise to work together this is not necessarily followed up with concrete action. The need for coherent UK wide action is one of the drivers behind the 18th March 2009 Older People's Food Summit, to be hosted by the NAfW Presiding Officer in Cardiff Bay.
The only scenario where we envisage a change in UK primary legislation impacting upon the devolved administrations could arise as a consequence of a change in the Westminster Government seeking to abolish the Food Standards Agency in England. This would require the repeal of appropriate primary legislation. One could then see FSA functions being reabsorbed into each UK Health Department. One critical issue would be how to provide evidence-based policies in the absence of the FSA Research and Development functions, which underpin all its work. It would then be for each of the devolved administrations to decide how to manage the situation in ways appropriate to them.
Local Health, Social Care and Wellbeing strategy regulations
No matter how good or well conceived a legislative process might be, the best yardstick to judge legislation is what it actually achieves. For example, one potentially important aspect of delivering food policy in Wales has been the use of regulation in respect of local Health, Social Care and Wellbeing strategy. Although the food policy aspect is still underdeveloped in the content of this legislation, overall our view is that the development of health, social care and wellbeing strategy represented exciting and innovative planning which seemed to herald an acceptance at the highest level of the importance of the wider determinants of health.
However, the development has been dogged from the outset by an apparent lack of commitment and understanding within Welsh Assembly Government (WAG). The original intention was to have an outline national HSCWB strategy, which would influence local strategies, but this was not delivered. In the event this did not stop local HSCWB partnerships producing some interesting first round strategies albeit heavily weighted towards health and social care and very light on wellbeing. But what we think was much more indicative of a lack of commitment and understanding was the complete lack of any attempt to analyse the first round of strategies and feed back the results to the local partnerships. It was as if the 22 sets of strategies went into a black hole at WAG level. And our impression is that the situation is no different so far with this second round of strategies and we await with interest an analysis being undertaken by WLGA.
Another concern is that there has been a failure to understand that the HSCWB strategy and the Community Strategy are two sides of one coin and are complementary, whereas having separate Children and Young Persons Frameworks and Community Safety Strategies undermines the integrative power of the HSCWB strategy / Community Strategy. This is now being further complicated by changes taking place in preparation for the new seven NHS Local Health Boards, which although well intended are causing bureaucratic muddle.
Finally, this legislation, in our view, also failed to understand the key potential health improvement role of food retailers and food service operators who have contact with three million Welsh citizens every week and that required changes can best be achieved through action at a UK level. For example, WFA are currently promoting a UK Older People's Food Charter - see attached - to develop a unified approach in both the public and private sectors to address growing malnutrition in an ageing society.
Legislation, for example, related to food standards is complex and increasingly international and heavily constrained by EU and international legislation. In recent years, where agreement is required of the NAfW, our understanding is that this takes up a large amount of Ministerial and civil service time, receives little Welsh Parliamentary scrutiny, and has little prospect of revision. In general terms we also understand that it is often difficult to obtain comments on draft legislation from Welsh stakeholders, unless specific trade interests are affected. In this context is it considered essential that we seek primary law making powers, or do we need to target specific issues of particular public health concern to Wales and lobby at a very early stage in EU decision-making processes? Should this be left to voluntary organisations or could the legislature take a more proactive role?
Contribution to public policy and devolution
Relevant Ministers have been supportive of our long-standing contribution. In particular we wish to record our thanks to Jane Hutt AM, when Health and Social Services Minister, who has understood our contribution and been especially supportive since our inception. Opportunities to influence government have been good, for example, through membership of the 'Food in Schools' and the Chief Nursing Officer 'Hospital Food' working groups, the National Service Framework for Older People, the FSA Food and Wellbeing Implementation and Monitoring Steering Group, and our success in representing the views of 368 older people to the 'Quality of Food' consultation. We were also one of the few Welsh organisations who contributed to Cabinet Office Food Security Inquiry, although they managed to ignore our central message about growing malnutrition in an ageing society.
On the whole, for an organisation of our size, we have had considerably more access than would have been the case in England. However, given the large amount of voluntary effort over a ten year period, we acknowledge that the results of our efforts have not been what we could have reasonably expected - see above. In particular, with nutrient standards in school meals being a central aspect of public health policy, it would have been better if this aspect had remained in Westminster. Devolution has made it possible to make changes in food education within the National Curriculum beyond that achieved in England. That said, if changes proposed in 1999 had been acted upon, we could have influenced a whole generation of pupils. Important aspects of food policy failed to occur in a timely manner not through the absence of devolved powers or the absence of new primary law making powers. The requirements were political will, a thorough debate and then action to prioritise resources available for this purpose within the Westminster block grant.
Wales Food and Health Policy Council
Although we are prepared to concede that progress may have been made in respect of food policy over the past ten years our experience has not been impressive. Our view is that devolution has had the effect of strengthening existing well-organised and politically influential interest groups. This has detracted from the importance of improved nutrient quality in public sector catering.
Currently, no forum exists to discuss this and a whole range of other food policy issues in an informed manner with various stakeholder interests. In our response to the Food and Wellbeing (2002) and the Quality of Food (2007) consultations we proposed a Wales Food and Health Policy Council. This should start with a consideration of the classic Toronto Food Policy Council model and could possibly be funded by diverting funding currently spent on the Assembly funded Nutrition Network. We note with interest that DEFRA has established a Council of Food Policy Advisers (2008).
The necessity of UK wide partnership working and collaboration
Although local health, social care and wellbeing strategies provide an important opportunity to address, for example, growing malnutrition in an ageing population, on certain strategic issues, at another level, we also need to operate across the UK. This is illustrated with the attached self-financed citizens UK agenda and questionnaire. This will span: varied sector skills councils, UK headquartered food retailers, and professional health and social care regulatory standard setting bodies. Whatever the outcome of the Convention we would value a clear statement of the importance of working across the four UK countries, with inclusive mechanisms to improve collaboration and partnership working on issues and concerns for the common good.
Food Policy Adviser
Final: 9th February 2009
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