|Food Policy, Devolution and Wales|
Page 4 of 8School 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).
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