London Food Board (1)

MQT on 2009-11-18
Session date: 
November 18, 2009
Question By: 
Brian Coleman
GLA Conservatives
Asked Of: 
The Mayor


What is the budget of the Food Board for London and exactly how does it "promote food"?


Answer for London Food Board (1)

Answer for London Food Board (1)

Answered By: 
The Mayor

I am very conscious, Chair, of my duty not to spoil Brian's [Coleman] punch line, which I will not! Such is my esteem for my friend and colleague I will leave it to him.

Darren Johnson (Chair): I hope you and Brian [Coleman] have not been rehearsing this exchange beforehand!

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): No. It is just that I can see the joke coming!

Brian Coleman (AM): Well I cannot. I was just going to say what is my punch line?

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): What I will say is that I think Rosie Boycott has been doing a first rate job in delivering growing spaces across London. It is something that has captured people's imagination. People love to grow food if they possibly can. I am not going to pretend to you that this is going to be the answer to London's foods needs because it certainly is not, but, if we get it right, it could be a very valuable programme.

I am not going to pretend to you either, Brian, that the budget is beyond review. It is something that we are going to look at. We are judging this thing on results. One of the things we want to see is that our aspiration to grow more food in London actually delivers participation by young people, people who might otherwise get into trouble, and that it then delivers social benefits as well.

Brian Coleman (AM): What slightly worries me, Mr Mayor, is the muddled thinking here, because - and I know you believe very much in reducing the public sector - surely a body like London Food, with its £3.8 million budget, is a classic --

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): Over several years.

Brian Coleman (AM): -- well -- is a classic example of something that we could do without in the public sector, but is there not also a conflict between the health policy of your administration on matters like obesity and, for example, promoting London Restaurant Festival? A sizeable amount was spent promoting London Restaurant Festival --

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): No. That I totally reject. No, come on, Brian.

Brian Coleman (AM): I am sorry. I am just looking at the flyers for the London Restaurant Festival. I have to say I think you and I, Mr Mayor, could promote London restaurants without any need for a festival!

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): Well you might do that!

Brian Coleman (AM): The lecture by Simon Schama [English historian and art historian] - I am sure it was a fascinating experience - 'A lecture on the history of our relationship with food, restaurants and eating and the importance of these relationships in our society'. I am sure that filled the hall! Then the Eat Film, 'A celluloid celebration of film. Watch a classic movie and then enjoy a sumptuous set menu with dishes themed around the food'. This is all very nice and very worthy, but is it really something that we should be looking at putting public money into?

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): Let me just say on the London catering industry and the restaurant industry generally, it is of huge importance to the economy. It has done exceptionally well, contrary to widespread predictions, during the recession. We have seen far fewer restaurants close in London than, for instance, in Paris and that is a testimony to the resilience of the London economy.

I certainly, for my part, do think it is part of our function here not personally to go out and have massive taxpayer funded binges, Brian, at restaurants, because that is not what we should be doing. What we should be doing is encouraging the robust health of the London restaurant trade and the hotel trade and the hospitality industry generally by getting people to come to London. That is why I not only defend whatever festival it is that you have in your hand, but also the investment that we have been making in the Only in London programme which has been, actually, very, very successful.

If you talk to London businesses they think it has been the right thing to do. We put £2 million, for instance, into the Only in London campaign. We think it has generated at least £50 million worth of revenues for the city. Huge numbers of people are continuing to come to London to take advantage of its many attractions. Not least the fact that a hamburger is now cheaper on the streets of London, thanks to this Government's masterly devaluation of the pound, than anywhere in the rest of Europe and, indeed, the rest of the world.

Brian Coleman (AM): Yes, but could you not just fold this piece of work, of the London Food Board, into the London Development Agency (LDA) and scrap the London Food Board?

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): What I will say, Brian, is we are certainly looking at the funding package. I want to see results but I am very pleased with what Rosie [Boycott] has done in mobilising public excitement and interest in growing food and making use of neglected pieces of land across London. She has a very ambitious target of getting many more growing spaces by 2012. They have only got 150 so far. I am looking to see many more and I hope that they will.

Brian Coleman (AM): Yes, but those boroughs that would like to increase their stock of allotments, for example, are finding that the pressures of housing targets on the boroughs are meaning there is no way we can expand the number of allotments available and, in fact, it puts pressures on sites that currently have allotments.

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): Well thank goodness then for having a London Food Board, Brian, which can lobby for allotments, because our policy on allotments is that we want a lot!

Brian Coleman (AM): I think I should be your straight man really. There is a first! Yes, I was waiting for that one! I am just looking for joined up thinking on policy matters.

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): You certainly have it in us. What we are looking for is results from Rosie. I think she is doing a wonderful job. She is mobilising people. She is enthusing people. I think it is a great project. Obviously we have got to judge all these things on a value for money criterion. And you still have not used your joke! Just for the record, Chair I am not going to have a London cheese board, which is the joke --

Brian Coleman (AM): I am very disappointed because I am sure there are plenty of big cheeses who could sit on it!