Westminster, London

Government must provide wholesaler support – EFRA committee

Wholesalers have welcomed a new report from an influential group of MPs saying government funding for hospitality businesses “will be wasted” unless it provides immediate financial support for food distributors who are “struggling to survive.”

The House of Commons EFRA Committee calls on ministers to provide additional funding to food and drink wholesalers and suppliers, who have not received the level of financial support offered to the pubs, bars and cafes which will rely on them to reopen this month.

FWD Chief Executive James Bielby gave oral evidence to the committee earlier this year and welcomed the committee’s findings.

“The needs of wholesalers have been heard loud and clear by the EFRA Committee,” said Bielby. “The report’s main finding says government must recognise the impact of hospitality’s closure on the sector’s suppliers and act urgently to support the supply chain.

“They’re absolutely right to demand that government acts now – there’s no return for hospitality without an investment in the wholesalers it will rely on as it reopens.

“Government must act immediately on the MPs’ recommendation that additional financial support should be provided to wholesalers.”

The report also recognises the government’s u-turn on school opening and food parcels created the problems for the wholesale sector, reading: “The problems with food parcels exacerbated the difficulties for wholesalers caused by short-notice school closures and led to significant losses for a sector that was already struggling.”

The report cites food minister Victoria Prentis’s evidence to the committee that the government is “very aware that some of the measures helping the hospitality sector have not been available to the wholesale sector” and that they are “looking at what is required to help them to get through this next stage”.

FWD said this was a welcome statement by the minister, who in a previous evidence session had claimed it was “too early” to look at supporting the wholesale sector.

“Minister Prentis’s comments show that she now understands that wholesalers genuinely haven’t benefitted from the support given to supermarkets and hospitality outlets, and her previous remarks were inaccurate,” Bielby added.

Following the report’s publication MP Neil Parish, the Chair of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee, reaffirmed the message.

“When pubs, bars and restaurants closed, their suppliers’ market evaporated overnight,” said Parish.

“They have worked admirably to pivot to new customers, but many businesses, particularly small ones, are struggling to survive. We are all looking forward to hospitality beginning to re-open on Monday, but the reality is that without support for their suppliers, many venues may struggle.

“The government must act now to provide additional help for suppliers. If its supply chain collapses the money the hospitality sector has received to get them through lockdown will have been wasted.”

coronavirus covid-19 EFRA Foodservice FWD Government hospitality James Bielby wholesale