Our economic priority: The huge & growing food & drink sector

Our Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) asked us to respond to their draft Strategic Economic Plan 2016-2030.

So we did, and you can read what we said here.

We argue the LEP’s economic priority should be the food and drink sector. It  is easily overlooked. They did; their draft Plan gave it barely a mention. Yet it is our largest business sector by far. It has huge economic impact in the Midlands, to the tune of £7bn a year.

bsf-2016-festival-logo_final-2-398x366We also spend over £6bn a year within the LEP area (£3bn within the city), with over 40% of that sum spent on eating out; food is very much part of our social fabric.

It’s a dynamic growing sector too; the city itself has over 500 new food businesses every year and no doubt hundreds more across the wider LEP region. And our vibrant street food scene is rapidly developing in our towns and cities, as witnessed with the British Street Food Awards in Digbeth this last weekend.

And, crucially, it would capitalise on these assets; as Professor Lawrence Freedman says, strategy is governed by its starting point, not its end point.

obesityBut — and it’s a big BUT . . . over-consumption of some food and drink products is proving very costly. Indeed, these rapidly growing costs was behind the Chief Medical Officer’s top recommendation that obesity is put on the National Risk Register.

The World Health Organisation, let alone our government, has recognised that the public health costs of obesity and other morbidities associated with poor diet, will cripple national budgets if nothing is done.

Add in, too, the impact of the global challenges of climate change, resource depletion and population pressures on food security. These global issues may seem far removed from us, but they will affect us profoundly.

Look first at these two info-graphics on the world population growth and the arable land per capita:


Now take a look at this graphic showing the projected impact of climate change on agricultural yields on those limited arable lands:


Sure, it shows likely increases in yields some parts of the northern hemisphere. But the growth in population isn’t here and, besides which, here in the UK, we import some 40% of the food we eat.

So for several very different and very important reasons, we urge the Greater Birmingham and Solihull LEP to have

  • A world-first strategy for the food and drink sector to deliver huge, fully costed economic benefit to the LEP region (pp1-2 of our report)
  • by investing in the physical and social infrastructures to deliver global as well as local targets (p3)
  • and to track their progress against this strategy plan by measuring relevant quality of life indicators. (p4)

note: When the LEP was preparing their strategy paper, they asked us to brief them about the food and drink sector. We did, and our briefing paper for them was also published online in January 2016.

It has three annexes giving background info, which we also published as three stand-alone papers: the global context, the national context and the local context.



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