Prince Charles' letters reveal support for role of supermarket adjudicator and 'buying British'

Will Green is news editor of Supply Management
14 May 2015

Prince Charles supported the establishment of a “buyer's charter” to “address the issues of reasonableness and fair play within the food chain” in letters he wrote to then prime minister Tony Blair between September 2004 and April 2005.

In correspondence newly made public by the Cabinet Office following a court ruling, the prince said an “independent arbitrator” should be appointed to “deal with individual complaints in an entirely private way”.

His comments, made in February 2005, pre-empted the appointment of a groceries code adjudicator in 2013.

He wrote: “There is no doubt that the dominant position of retailers is the single biggest issue affecting British farmers and the food chain, and if it is not dealt with all the other good work which has been going on risks becoming virtually useless.”

In another letter from October 2004 the prince called for the government to “find innovative ways” to support British food produce, adding: “Public procurement of beef is an obvious area in which the government could make a substantial difference to the beef sector."

“So much depends on the consumer demanding British produce and I only wish that more could be done to encourage people to buy British and to understand that it is only with their support that British agriculture and the countryside will survive," he wrote.

The prince also highlighted the problems faced by dairy farmers and the need to create cooperatives because “farmers increasingly understand that by working together they have more power to deal with processors and retailers”.

He wrote: “Unless United Kingdom co-operatives can grow sufficiently the processors and retailers will continue to have the farmers in an armlock and we will continue to shoot ourselves in the foot.”

Concerning defence procurement, Charles said the deployment of surveillance technology was being “frustrated by the poor performance of the existing Lynx aircraft in high temperatures”.

“Despite this, the procurement of a new aircraft to replace the Lynx is subject to further delays and uncertainty due to the significant pressure on the defence budget. I fear that this is just one more example of where our armed forces are being asked to do an extremely challenging job (particularly in Iraq) without the necessary resources,” the prince wrote.

In reply Blair said he hoped “we have started to turn the corner on infrastructure support for local produce – and I agree that the benefit of promoting local sourcing is markedly reduced without this”.

Citing figures that 60 per cent of local authorities claimed to have adopted sustainable development criteria in their food purchasing, the former PM said: “I also think we are beginning to up our game more generally on public sector food procurement.”

He added: “While the Ministry of Defence clearly has to operate within finite resources, our planned investment in future helicopters will be substantial. Replacement of the Lynx and Gazelle reconnaissance and surveillance capabilities will be a priority for this programme, which will seek to deliver a future fleet that is fully capable of deployment in all anticipated operational environments.”

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