Sir Keir Starmer makes commitment to British farming, promising a more rural-centric government

Half of all food purchased by the public sector would be bought from local and sustainable sources under a Labour government, the party’s leader has pledged.

Sir Keir Starmer, speaking at the NFU Conference in Birmingham, said that seasonal, sustainable British-grown food must be seen as a key part of British national security. That represents a £1.2bn spend every year. He added that the 50 per cent commitment is a minimum target.

“Food security is national security,” Sir Keir said. “That’s why the Labour Party is committed to buying, making and selling more in Britain. We’re committed to reforming public procurement, using it sensibly and carefully to build up our sovereign communities in key industries. It’s a crucial aspect of our industry strategy, our partnership, our plan for national resilience.”

Seasonal labour

The Labour leader also stated that the country needs a plan for trade and addressing the basic lack of workers. “A tight labour market is crippling entire sectors of our economy at the moment, and I know farming has been hit hard,” he said. “Labour will not allow a situation where temporary shortages gum up an entire supply chain. That’s anti-growth, anti-business, and it’s anti-farming.”

He added, however, that while a Labour government would be pragmatic about the seasonal labour visa route, the “era of abundant cheap labour is over” and represents a practical challenge that must be solved between government and industry.

“Any movement in our points-based migration system must come alongside a plan, a shared undertaking, an understanding to move forward to a different model,” he explained. ”Over time our goal must be to help the British economy off its immigration dependency, improve pay and conditions where we can, work together to get the technological innovation deployed in our fields, and carefully move towards a new, more resilient model for British farming. A model where you’re not nervously waiting each year to see if you have the staff, and where whoever is in power, you’re less dependent on the Home Office to stop food rotting in your fields.”

Respect for farmers

Sir Keir centred his speech around the theme of respect – something he said the farming industry was missing out on. “Respect is a value that shapes how we see the world,” he explained. “I think it’s very important. There’s a feeling that politics doesn’t respect people, and I know this sentiment is especially strong with farming. Let me acknowledge Labour’s role in that – we do care deeply.”

Admitting that the Labour Party is perceived as urban-centric, he emphasised that things are changing. “This is a different Labour Party,” he said. “I have had an immense focus on changing our party. We are seeking a new relationship with the countryside and farming communities based on respect. I want the Labour Party to say as much about rural issues as it does about urban issues.”

Sir Keir criticised what he called “sticking plaster politics” and the government adopting short-term solutions rather than long-term planning and partnerships with industry, adding that farmers need certainty, stability and long-term strategies. “This government is not going to get this or understand the chaos they caused and what the cost is. We will form genuine partnerships with business, farming communities and others to get this done so you can thrive and prosper.”

The Labour Party also wants to see more solar farms across the country, which Sir Keir said would bring opportunities for farmers, bringing growth to rural areas, cheaper bills and energy independence.