How important is the food sector to Birmingham’s economy?

What is the value of the food sector to the city and regional economy? What’s its nature? How many businesses are there here, what’s their turnover, how many people do they employ, and where are they in the supply network?

No-one seems to know any of this. The food sector has to be important here; we’re in the middle of a conurbation of millions, plus we’re at the centre of the national transport system.

The Birmingham Food Council is talking to various academics who have a good understanding of UK food networks. We’ve also given the following initial brief to Nick Hughes to do a small piece of research for us, reporting back to the Board by December 2014:

What we want to be able to do is demonstrate how important food businesses and the food industry is to the city’s economy. At the moment, the food sector doesn’t appear to enter into socio-political decision-making.

Our question is, should it?

How does the ‘food economy’ (however we might define that) compare to other sectors in the city? And does it have a higher or a lower profile here than in other cities?

These are big questions, and answering them fully is impossible with the time and budget we have. Nonetheless, even this small piece of research will give us some basic facts and a much more reliable ‘feel’ for the economic and social value of the food sector to us — as well as put us in touch with people who have access to and an understanding of the data sets and other information that can tell us so much more.

NickHughesNick is just the man for the job. He’s not from here, doesn’t live here and never has — so has an objective perspective. He’s a well-respected food journalist who writes regularly for The Grocer and has just completed the world renowned MSc in Food Policy from City University. I met him through the Elliott Review Birmingham; he was Policy Advisor to the Elliott Review Team.

The Elliott Report and the Elliott Review Birmingham

Birmingham looks set to play a key role in tackling food crime, as reported in Elliott Report into the Integrity and Assurance of Food Supply Networks published last Thursday (4th September), and the Elliott Review Birmingham Report.

The city has offered to be the hub of the proposed Food Crime Intelligence Unit, supported by expertise from both Aston University and the University of Birmingham — and with us at the Birmingham Food Council scrutinising and challenging what’s going on.

Why Birmingham?

In late November 2013 just before his interim report came out, Professor Chris Elliott asked me, with my New Optimists hat on, to help him present in his final report a case study of how a major UK city (i.e. Birmingham!) could tackle food crime.

ProfChriisElliott-AprilWorkshop2-300x216To that end, I consulted widely across the food supply network in the city. Then in April 2014, over 50 people gathered at a facilitated workshop co-hosted by The New Optimists and the Elliott Review team. It was at Aston Villa Football Club — the Prof, I discovered only the day before, is a ‘football nut” (I quote one of the Elliott Review team) . . .

Since that event, much consultation has gone on, both inside the city and between people here, and the Elliott Review team.

Food crime is big business. I’m not talking rogue landlords watering down the booze, or a spot of urban chicken rustling.

I’m talking highly organised international criminals making loadsamoney in a systematic way — with potential serious health consequences. (Think the horsemeat scandal, methanol in cheap vodka, melamine in baby-milk . . . )

The least that happens is that thee and me as consumers are cheated, as with horsegate. Food crime can make us ill, sometimes seriously ill. Or could kill us; over 300,000 infants were affected, 54,000 hospitalised and six died in the Chinese babymilk scandal in 2008, or the 42 people who died of methanol poisoning in the Czech Republic in 2012.

The Prof was interviewed at the Villa workshop:


Nutrition and public health

Food poverty, food insecurity

Food safety and integrity

Urban food growing

Food and the city economy

Global food security

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