#NourishElectionAsks – Ask 6: Procure Locally & Invest Council Pension Funds in Sustainable Food Production

With the local elections right around the corner, Nourish is asking candidates to support our ideas for how Local Authorities can catalyse some vital changes in our food system. Full details of the #NourishElectionAsks and how to sign up as a supporter are available here.

From now, until the elections, we’ll be posting blogs about each of our asks.

Nourish is currently campaigning at a national level for a new legal framework for the food system in Scotland. However, alongside a better framework underpinning our food system, we need local action to bring about a real transformation of how we do food.

Where can Local Authorities find the money required to invest in this shift, in times of tightening budgets? Public pension funds are an untapped resource, as are public procurement contracts.

That’s why Nourish Scotland’s sixth policy ask is:

Procure Locally & Invest Council Pension Funds in Sustainable Food Production

Nourish supports the Reinvest Scotland campaign run by Common Weal, UNISON Scotland and Friends of the Earth Scotland that calls on council pension funds to divest from fossil fuel companies, aligning with Scotland’s climate change commitments, and reinvest strategically into the local economy. We’d like to see a proportion of these funds to be re-invested in sustainable food businesses as well as in farmland (see Ask 4.) as part of a wider socially responsible investment portfolio.

Additionally, as we emphasised in our second policy ask on public sector food, we think it’s time for our public sector bodies to implement the new Sustainable Procurement Duty as set out by the Procurement Reform Scotland (Act) 2014. This commits local authorities to consider how through the procurement process they can improve the economic, social, and environmental wellbeing of the authority’s area, and reduce inequalities in particular, and facilitate the involvement of small and medium enterprises and third sector bodies.

Case study: The Preston Model

While Scottish local authorities are coming under increasing financial pressure, in England the cuts have been affecting authorities already deeper and for longer. In this difficult climate, Preston Council has been leading the way over the past 7 years with reforms focused on supporting the local economy and tackling inequalities. They devised a model that involves 12 of the city’s key employers – including the county constabulary, a public sector housing association, colleges and hospitals – buying goods and services locally, to stop 61% of their procurement budget being spent outside of the Lancashire economy. A key step was to redirect public contracts, such as printing services for the police and food for council buildings, towards local businesses. The benefits of this shift for local businesses can already be seen. Conlon Construction, a family-run company, has hired five local staff and three graduate apprentices since it was awarded public sector contracts including one to build a new covered market hall. Local farmers profited when the council divided up its £1.6m food budget for canteen sandwich fillings, yoghurts and fruit and simplified the tender process. On top of this, they got their public pension fund to invest in student housing, are looking at setting up a local bank to give business loans and for the local authority to become an energy provider. Preston was also the first northern city authority to implement the living wage in 2012. “You put all that together and you can see how we are developing the infrastructure for a new economy.”, Councillor Matthew Brown explains in this article.