Bielby: FWD representing wholesale in times of turmoil
During a time of such political turmoil, one of the only certainties is that FWD will continue to be the voice for the industry and will work determinedly to achieve the best possible outcomes for wholesalers on a wide range of issues
They used to say a week was a long time in politics, but these days a huge amount can change within just 24 hours. As the organisation charged with translating the impact of events in Westminster into actionable insight for the wholesale sector, FWD certainly has its work cut out – in fact, that’s just about the only thing we can be certain of as we head into a new parliamentary term.
With the odds on yet another general election shortening rapidly, the political parties are shaping their manifestos to put before the electorate, so now is our opportunity to ensure the policies they pursue support the work of food and drink wholesalers providing vital services to communities and supporting businesses up and down the country.
Our job is to represent the views of wholesalers on potential new measures. We look for three things in a policy proposal: can it be achieved realistically by our members; will it have a disproportionate cost or business impact on them; and will it achieve the aim it is intended to?
With both main parties promising to raise wages for the least well-off workers, we will be pointing out that wholesalers, who provide a greater than average number of low-skilled jobs, will suffer disproportionately from above-inflation rises in the National Living Wage (NLW). While we support the principles of NLW and understand its power as a popular manifesto pledge, we will caution the new government that excessive rises in wage costs may result in fewer people being employed in our sector.
The new administration will undoubtedly look at cost-saving measures, so we will make the case of retaining the current investment in free school meals and other vital support schemes, including holiday hunger provision. We will resist any change to existing Sunday trading rules.
Environmental concerns will significantly influence the parties’ proposals, and here our approach must be to welcome the intention of any changes but explain how their implementation would affect food distribution. Clean-air zones in cities, for example, are a fine idea; banning the delivery vehicles that fuel the populations of those urban areas is not.
A reduction in the use of plastic in the supply chain is inevitable, but we need a measured approach to allow us to work towards alternatives that don’t have other unforeseen impacts. A deposit return scheme on drink containers will cost the average wholesaler as much as £300,000 extra per week – and the Scottish government and Westminster must work together to deliver a UK-wide scheme.
Health will also be a policy driver and once again the issue here is not the principle but the delivery. The Soft Drinks Levy showed that manufacturers can rise to government’s challenges, and that is perhaps the basis for similar action on high-fat, salt and sugar products. We will resist solutions that unfairly target the wholesale sector’s customers such as any UK-only track and trace tobacco scheme, which may be introduced after a no-deal Brexit.
This is a period of turmoil unlike any other in politics as we know it. In these uncertain times, the job of the FWD is to be the loud and unequivocal voice for our industry and its concerns. It is a task we are honoured to undertake and which we relish.