Amid a pandemic, economic downturn and a nature and climate emergency, elections are taking place for the Scottish Parliament, Senedd Cymru and many local councils and combined authorities in England on May 6 2021.
There is no time like the elections to interrogate candidates and ensure good food is embedded in the local political agenda for years to come.
Council elections in England
If you care about good food, local elections offer a unique opportunity for you and your organisation to interrogate candidates and ensure your vision and ideas shape the area you live in.
Your elected ward councillors, council leader or mayor are among the most influential figures in local government who can endorse and support the causes you care about.
Local elections offer a great opportunity for individuals, food and farming organisations and food partnerships to ensure our future local elected leaders, no matter their political party, understand the role and powers they have to improve all aspects of food. Our objective is not to influence the result of elections or favour one candidate over another. Party political impartiality is vital for effective campaigning and the credibility or campaigning organisations.
The local elections offer a unique opportunity to call for a food partnership in your local area if you don’t have one, or for more support for those where they do exist. We have compiled tips and examples from the Sustainable Food Places network in a handy toolkit to help you or your organisation get your priorities onto the agenda of candidates. Listen back to the campaigns meeting on local elections for handy tips from the network and from councillors.
The first step is to identify your calls to action. Is it to establish a food partnership in your area or a lead on food in the council? Is it to double area for community food growing or more support for new businesses? Or for better access to healthy food for all? Is there one call to action that is a priority for your local area? You can do this on your own but your campaign will be stronger and more impactful when you collaborate and build alliances. You may even want to draft a ‘manifesto’ outlining your joint priorities and send this to all candidates.
If you already have a partnership or network of those like you, who care about these issues, you can use the local elections as an opportunity to galvanize them as much as the candidates you’re contacting. Involve your supporters in setting up key questions for candidates, define the top five or ten priorities for candidates or invite your supporters to go to hustings armed with key questions for candidates .
The next step is to research who are the candidates standing for local elections in your ward and local area. Mayor candidates are usually announced well in advance but councillor candidates for different wards may not be announced until the 9th of April deadline. Good sources of information are the webpages of your local political parties, local media or websites such as Who Can I Vote For or Democracy Club.
As the candidates may not be announced until the April 9, you can write to the local political parties as a first point of call before this. Once candidates have been announced, which may be before April, writing to them directly will be most effective. Prioritise candidates in your ward and check if the council leader and relevant cabinet members are up for re-election. Ask them questions, send them your calls to action, manifesto or food strategy and invite them for a meeting. Publish and disseminate their answers to your supporters so their commitments are made public.
Feel free to adapt the template letter for your local political parties and candidates.
I am writing to you on behalf of [organisation name and description].
Food has become an ever more important issue over the last year. Covid-19 has exposed pre-existing structural inequalities and is pushing more people into food insecurity, threatening the viability of small food businesses and increasing social isolation. Whilst at the same time our food system and supply have a major impact on our health, with obesity being a contributing factor to many covid-related deaths, and has a major impact on future crises such as the climate and nature emergency. We believe that creating a resilient food system should be a top priority and we are approaching candidates from the main political parties inviting them to answer seven questions. The responses will be publicly shared with our growing network of individuals and supporter organisations in [local area].
We commend the leadership you have shown on food issues, including [XXX], [declaring a climate and nature emergency] and [XXX]. We would welcome the start of a conversation with you and your team on how you could build on this leadership to support everyone in [local area].
1. Do you pledge to support a food partnership in [local area]?
Cross-sector food partnerships bring together local authorities and other public bodies, community groups and the third sector, businesses and academic organisations to transform their local food system with the aim of improving public health and wellbeing; fostering community connection and resilience; building prosperous and diverse local food economies; and helping to tackle the critical sustainability issues of waste and the climate and nature emergency. The Sustainable Food Places network offers support to budding and established food partnerships including tools, guides, grants, network events and discussion forums. [adapt if there is a food partnership or strong prospect]
2. Do you pledge to appoint a food lead in [local area] Council?
Whether a lead councillor or a policy coordinator among council staff, a food lead can coordinate action on food, working across different departments ensuring the council has a joined-up approach to food.
3. How will you tackle food poverty?
We believe good food is a right not a privilege. [local area]’s already high levels of food insecurity have risen dramatically during the pandemic as many individuals and families reach breaking point. As the long-term impact of the crisis continues to unfold, we risk seeing worsening food poverty without decisive action. More should be done to stop the institutionalisation of food banks and to enable everyone to access good food as part of a robust safety net.
4. How will tackle diet related ill-health and improve access to affordable healthy food?
The Covid-19 pandemic has laid bare the risks that health inequalities and obesity pose to our national resilience. It’s time to make sure every [local area] neighbourhood offers a healthy food environment – from institutional settings to high streets – to ensure affordable healthy food is available and accessible to all.
5. How will you create a thriving food economy that creates good food jobs and skills and includes food in plans for a green economic recovery?
The Covid-19 pandemic has exposed the fragility in our food supply chain but has also proven that smaller-scale and localised food supply chains are resilient and can adapt to demand and support the emergency response. Food organisations, from growers to restauranteurs, who provide vital jobs in our local economy have been hit the hardest. To rebuild [local area], better investment in the local, sustainable food economy will be vital in safeguarding our unique food culture while protecting livelihoods and our high streets to build back better.
6. How will you use catering and procurement to revitalise local and sustainable food businesses?
Catering and procurement provide a uniquely powerful lever for promoting good food. By transforming catering across a wide range of settings – from nurseries, schools and colleges through hospitals and care homes to workplace canteens – it is possible not only to improve the eating habits but also to create the large-scale demand for healthy, sustainable and local food needed to underpin a fundamental shift in the food production and supply system.
7. What plans do you have to tackle the climate and nature emergency?
Our food system causes great damage to nature and contributes to climate change, yet also offers solutions for reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and restoration of biodiversity. [Local area] has a huge opportunity to improve food resilience, support carbon-sequestering agroecological farming and dramatically reduce food and plastic waste. We can also empower residents to take action both on the food they eat, and to get involved in community activities such as food growing and buying climate and nature friendly food.
Hustings are panel discussion where candidates debate policies and answer questions from the audience. They're a great way to push candidates to make commitments on good food or other issues. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, hustings will be held online this year.
Even if you don’t have capacity to organise hustings, there will be plenty of opportunities for you to participate in hustings organised by other organisations. Many candidates publish hustings they will be participating in their local websites. Check if environmental organisations or the local chamber of commerce are organising hustings. You can also invite members of your steering group and your supporters to go to hustings armed with key questions for candidates.
Feel free to adapt these template questions for hustings or other opportunities to interact with your candidates.
Q1: [food partnership name if applicable] has produced a food strategy and food action plan bringing together key stakeholders in [local area] including the council, academics, food businesses and voluntary sector organisations. How will candidates, if elected, support this strategy and action plan?
Q2: I believe that good food is a right not a privilege and food banks are not a long-term solution to solve hunger and food insecurity. Our high levels of food insecurity have risen dramatically during the pandemic. Number of people using food banks increased XX% in [local area] / food hub is distributing meals to XXX people in need very week. What will you do as a councillor/mayor to ensure that everyone has access to good food with dignity along with a robust safety net and look beyond the food bank for solutions?
Q3: [XX%] of reception children are overweight and obese in [area] and this increases to [XX%] by the time children leave primary school (check the figures for your area in this LGA website). Furthermore, Covid-19 has laid bare the risks of health inequalities and obesity. We know that unhealthy food environments including junk food advertising, proliferation of takeaways and food deserts – where there simply are no shops offering healthier food such as fresh fruits and vegetables – lead people to make the wrong food choices. What will you do as a councillor/mayor to ensure [local area] becomes a healthier [city/county/etc]?
Q4: The food sector is a major employer in [local area]. Many food businesses, from growers to restaurants, who provide vital jobs in our local economy, have been hit the hardest. But Covid-19 also demonstrated that smaller-scale and localised food supply chains are resilient and can adapt to demand and support the emergency response. What investment are you planning in the local food economy to safeguard our SME’s?
Q5: [Relevant for higher tier authorities with control over catering and procurement] Catering and procurement across nurseries, schools and colleges through hospitals and care homes to workplace canteens is a powerful lever to create large-scale demand for healthy, sustainable and local food. How will you use catering and procurement to revitalise local and sustainable food supply chains and reduce the climate impact of the food bought by the council?
Q6: Almost one-third of global greenhouse gas emissions come from food and agriculture. [adapt according to council powers in your area] The council has a role in procuring food for schools and other services, manage waste and composting, local land use and has a significant role in shaping the diets of residents and the food available locally. What actions will you support to reduce food-related emissions in [area]?
Some face-to-face interaction with candidates may be possible. Is there a community food growing space, farm, or good food enterprise locally that is typical of the kind of thing you want to see more of? Then invite them there. Visiting and experiencing projects first-hand and communicating with beneficiaries is a powerful way for candidates to understand the aims of your food partnership or organisation and get one step closer to make commitments.
Regardless of your political preferences, it’s important to congratulate the winners and arrange a follow up meeting. Hopefully by this stage you will have built a relationship with the candidates and they will be aware of the importance of your work. Some councillors may have made commitments relating to food in their campaigns, so build on this and encourage them to deliver on these promises, or explore how you can help them to do so.
London mayoral elections
From tackling raising levels of food poverty and the highest levels of diet-related disease rates in Europe, to rebuilding the capital city with better investment in the local, sustainable food economy, the future Mayor of London has an important role in making food in London healthier, greener and fairer for all.
Scottish Parliament & Senedd Cymru election
Covid-19 has heightened the vulnerabilities in the current food system. Coalitions of food and farming organisations in Scotland and Wales developed collective visions for developing more resilient and sustainable food systems to prevent future crisis and support the economic recovery. Get inspired by their manifestos and get involved in their campaigns.
Bristol Mayoral Hustings 2021: How can Bristol’s response to the climate and ecological emergencies be fast and fair?
15 Mar 2021