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Conservative MP and previous Foreign Secretary Liz Truss has been named the UK’s new Prime Minister.
The circumstances in which Truss will ascend to Number 10 are challenging – her time in office will be marked by the remnants of a pandemic, soaring inflation and an increasingly severe cost of living crisis.
As the leader of the traditionally pro-business Tory party, she will be expected to adopt measures which help struggling industries – of which food is one. Here are the promises she has made to the UK’s food sector:
HFSS legislation scrapped
In early August, Truss pledged to scrap plans to introduce legislation aimed at cutting consumption of HFSS foods. The comments were made in an interview with The Daily Mail.
Because of the cost of living crisis, the Government has already postponed the adoption of many of the elements of the HFSS legislation, including the pre-watershed advertising ban. However, Truss has made clear her intention to axe all of the rules, and pledge not to introduce any further HFSS-related taxes.
Truss justified her position by saying: “What people want the Government to be doing is delivering good roads, good rail services, making sure there’s broadband, making sure there’s mobile phone coverage, cutting the NHS waiting lists, helping people get a GP appointment. They don’t want the Government telling them what to eat.”
Improved access to seasonal workers
This summer has seen several high profile stories which have laid bare the severity of the agricultural labour shortage in the UK. British Berry Growers released data which suggested the industry would lose 7,709 tonnes of berries this season, worth £36.5M, because of a lack of seasonal workers.
Liz Truss has said she plans on making it easier for farmers and growers to “access the workers they need”. She said she would extend the seasonal workers visa scheme, which is currently due to run out in 2024. This scheme allows for 40,000 overseas workers to come to the UK for six months of the year to help farmers with the harvest.
In a statement, she said: “We will make it easier for farmers and growers to access the workers they need, with a short term expansion to the seasonal workers scheme, while working with industry to address longer term skills shortages.”
Agriculture ‘red tape’ inherited from EU axed
Alongside a promise for more seasonal workers, Truss has said her Government will remove the ‘red tape’ which UK farmers have inherited from the European Union. Such restrictions include the use of drones for targeted fertilising, and the usage of certain chemicals.
She said she would also review poultry and dairy livestock, horticulture and animal health regulations in order to simplify them, and ensure they allow for the sector to remain resilient and adaptable.
At the launch of her campaign, she said: “We will turbocharge the rural economy by focusing on farmers growing food and cutting the pointless regulation that gets in their way.”
Business rates and energy prices reviewed
With many food SMEs facing a dire winter ahead because of rising energy bills, the British Retail Association has said that 100% business rates relief for retailers and a cap on energy prices are required to ensure they survive into 2023.
Liz Truss pledged at a leadership hustings in Birmingham to conduct a full tax review, including for business rates – and this could be of benefit for struggling food businesses.
It has also been revealed that Truss is looking into freezing the wholesale cost of gas produced in Britain, as a means to force energy companies to sell at cost and drive down bills.
British exports expanded
Even with the news that UK exports of food and drink have returned to pre-pandemic levels, Liz Truss aims to boost numbers higher – particularly through exports like Scottish whisky and Welsh lamb.
Additionally, she has said she will tackle the bureaucratic issues currently faced at the Northern Irish border, by ‘finding a solution’.
Truss said in a press statement: “I will seek to continue what I started in the Foreign Office to find a solution to the Northern Ireland protocol that works for the people and businesses there that contribute to our growth, and respects Northern Ireland’s position as a key part of our United Kingdom.”
Cost of living crisis tackled
Because of the highly changeable nature of the cost of living crisis, Truss has kept her cards close to her chest regarding her plans to tackle the problem. Food and Drink Federation Chief Executive Karen Betts has said tackling inflation is among the biggest ways Truss can bolster UK food.
She said: “We need to work with the government to tackle soaring inflation, which is straining household budgets and putting businesses in our sector under real pressure.”
It is rumoured Liz Truss will reveal a support package worth £100 billion to help the country through the cost-of-living crisis within the first week of her premiership. There is no word yet on what this will entail exactly, but improving financial access to food is a likely focus.
Speaking on Truss’s election, British Independent Retailers Association CEO Andrew Goodacre said: “We hope that as well as campaigning to secure the votes, the new Prime Minister has also been working on plans to address the immediate economic challenges, both short term and medium term.”
He also outlined the measures he hoped to see from Truss, to shore up the future of British retail. These include giving financial support to SME retailers facing exorbitant energy price hikes, improving consumer confidence for the remaining months of the year, reducing VAT to stimulate demand, and a grant or loan system to help businesses adopt energy saving technology.
Find out what the FDF’s Chief Executive expects from the new PM in the latest episode of the Food Matters Live Podcast: