Letter emailed to the UK Prime Minister on 25 March 2020
In the early weeks of the COVID-19 crisis, we found high levels of uncertainty and anxiety amongst SME bakery business owners, and employees, in our network. We took action by writing to Boris Johnson requesting assurance and information.
Dear Mr. Johnson,
Run by the food and farming charity Sustain, the Real Bread Campaign has around 900 SME bakery businesses in its network. They are essential in providing skilled, meaningful jobs locally, helping to retain jobs, keep high streets alive and money circulating in local economies, both now and when the nation enters into recovery (in all senses) from this crisis.
The owners of these SMEs, and their many thousands of employees, urgently need the government’s help and assurance on a number of important issues.
Essential food supply SMEs under threat
The Real Bread bakers of Britain welcome your assertion that food is essential and that food shopping is one of the four permitted reasons for people to leave their homes. Already, however, the closure of restaurants, canteens and other eateries has deprived many wholesale bakeries of most, or even all, of their business, while closing cafés and baking schools has cut off essential income streams for many retail bakeries. Those closures were needed to limit the spread of infection, but the bakeries now need your help to stay in business.
While larger, plant bakeries (especially supplying supermarkets) are more likely to survive, and even thrive in, the current situation, microbakeries and other SME bakery businesses are particularly vulnerable and less likely to recover.
Full shelves, empty buses
Collectively, SME bakery businesses are a vital part of the solution to the urgent need to keep Britain fed safely and well. Many are able to keep baking and re-stocking throughout the day, while supermarket shelves stripped bare by panic buyers will remain empty until the next delivery from a distant factory. Only today, the industrial loaf manufacturers highlighted challenges they face in meeting demand and ensuring supply.
Small, local bakeries make bread and other essentials available literally (and, in the case of those offering contactless delivery, actually) on the doorsteps of people in rural, and even some urban, locations that are miles from the nearest supermarket. In the current situation this has the added benefit of helping with essential social-distancing by allowing more people to access food on foot or by bike, thereby avoiding trips on local buses and other public transport that might risk close contact and transmission of infection.
What local bakeries need
The Real Bread Campaign has undertaken a survey of bakery owners in our network and found that the main support and assurances that the Real Bread bakers of Britain need from you most urgently include:
- The assurance that the government will not order the closure of retail bakery outlets.
- Encouragement for supermarkets to stock more Real Bread, and other food made and grown by local SME producers, and a relaxation in the rules to make this easier.
- Keeping essential local food infrastructure open and functioning safely (such as wholesalers, wholesale markets, street markets, distribution channels and local cash outlets such as ATMs) and providing their operators with guidance on safe handling of food and packaging, and social distancing.
- Help with rates, rents, staff wages and sick pay
- Easy and rapid access to grants and loans for SMEs.
- Making it easier for employees who are out of work to claim a proportion of their wages or, alternatively, social security benefits – whatever their employment or contractual status.
- A universal basic income that meets the costs of living – including adequate food - and other support for bakers and other food workers who are self-employed but unable to work, which is in line with the support already offered by the Chancellor of the Exchequer to employees who are unable to work.
Will you take these actions today so that Real Bread bakeries can be there to help feed Britain today, and still be there to help rebuild our economy when this pandemic is over?
The Real Bread Campaign
On 5 May this response was sent, not by the Prime Minister, but by the Defra Ministerial Contact Unit:
"Thank you for your email of 20 March about specific guidance for food retail operators and shoppers. I have been asked to reply.
We have been advised that the issues raised in your email are a matter for the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS). You may want to contact them at the following address..."
We understand that the Prime Minister might not be able to reply personally to every letter addressed to him, particularly at this time. We do not, however, understand why he/his office mis-directed our letter to the wrong department, or why that department didn't simply re-direct it.
Thankfully, in the six weeks since we wrote, most of the things we called for have been implemented, or at least announced.
Published 25 Mar 2020
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