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.
Nick 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.