Senedd sketch: Downbeat First Minister’s Questions reflects on 2Sisters fallout
First Minister’s Question was a rather dispirited affair this week with all painfully aware of why Mark Drakeford himself was not at the helm.
Taking questions today (31 January) on behalf of Mr Drakeford who was bereaved over the weekend, was Lesley Griffiths Minister for Rural Affairs and North Wales.
After some kind words from Llywydd Elin Jones, Members of the Senedd stood up for a moment of reflection in memory of Claire Drakeford.
Jenny Rathbone MS for Cardiff Central is a woman of her community and one of the things she is passionate about is public health. Of which she says there’s an emergency that is exacerbated by our unhealthy diets.
Ms Rathbone’s question today was: “What is the Welsh Government doing to strengthen food security in Wales?
What had led to her question, she added was this: “Only twice in the last three months have I been able to obtain the boxes of fruit and vegetables I want to give to my local food bank … next to none of the food coming into the wholesale market is grown in Wales …”
Whilst Ms Rathbone says she appreciates the work Lesley Griffths, as the Minister for Rural Affairs, has done, “to try and expand the horticulture sector in Wales, but it really isn’t enough …
“How does the government plan to address this strategically significant issue?”
Whilst in denial that this is indeed a problem, Lesley Griffiths at least had the grace to look rather uncomfortable.
She said: “The food supply is really wholly integrated across the UK – we’ve got very diverse supply chains as well for both import and export.”
Lesley Griffiths added: “I don’t think there is a general shortage of fruit and vegetables, they are widely available.”
However, she added: “We are trying to tackle this issue … I’m told that horticulture is an area where we want to see the expansion of in the agriculture sector …”
Rhun ap Iorwerth MS for Ynys Môn reminded the Senedd that 730 people in his Anglesey constituency are facing redundancy.
On 25 January, the 2Sisters Food Group announced that they are shortly closing their poultry processing factory in Llangefni.
Mr ap Iorwerth said: “We need urgent steps … Does the Minister agree that we need investment into food production in Ynys Môn for existing business to grow?
“And also, for the kind of investment I’ve been pushing for – a food production park in order to ensure that this sector gets the boost that it needs. This is a strength of ours that we can build on in Ynys Môn.”
“No idea …”
Lesley Griffiths agreed that the news of job losses on Anglesey was indeed “devastating”.
She added: “It was completely unexpected and we had no prior knowledge of it. I don’t think there had been any attempt to contact Welsh Government at all before the announcement. It was very disappointing, particularly following the support we’d given them and the work we’d done with them particularly over the pandemic.
“It did catch us completely unaware; we had no idea …”
Would that be the ‘support’ Welsh Government gave 2Sisters back in 2013 or more recently?
A statement, which can be seen on the Welsh Government website, by then Minister for Business Edwina Hart, dated 5 March 2013 says:
“2 Sisters Food Group Ltd has announced that it will be purchasing VION’s red meat processing facility in Merthyr Tydfil, together with its two poultry units in Llangefni and Sandycroft.
“Since VION’s announcement about its intention to exit the UK, we have been working closely with them and 2 Sisters Food Group Ltd to help secure the future of the sites in Wales.
“Welsh Government support for this project has been instrumental in realising this outcome, and in safeguarding thousands of jobs and in securing the potential creation of new jobs.”
I asked back in 2013 whether Welsh Government had given any cash incentive to 2Sisters to take over the processing facilities from VION. They refused to confirm or deny that any money was provided, citing commercial confidentiality.
Now that it seems that 2Sisters are abandoning their factory and workers in Anglesey, I’m sure our readers will be keen to know whether Welsh Government has given 2Sisters any of our money.
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What’s a food production park?
A place where food is grown like a community allotment in wartime or a series of rendered meat processing mini-factories. Row after row of massive poly tunnels or a mixture of wet-land and paddy fields ? Cheese and chicken factory or a massive lab growing non-meat. Artisan bakeries and chocolate factories, Industrial strength junk food production lines. Why not just grow stuff that can be cooked…