There is no time like the local elections to interrogate candidates and ensure good food is embedded in the local political agenda for years to come. Sustainable Food Places Policy and Campaigns Coordinator Sofia Parente compiled tips and examples from the network in a handy toolkit to help you and your organisation get your priorities onto the agenda of candidates.
With some local elections postponed in 2020, Council elections are bigger than ever this May, with the direct election of thousands of local councillors in over 150 local authorities in England.
From improving school meal provision, to reducing carbon emissions from food and land under Council control, to investing in local food infrastructure such as markets, or to make more areas available for community food growing, your councillors and elected mayor have the power to deliver initiatives that will shape your area, not to mention your food partnership or project work, and contribute to solve the challenges of our food system.
It's a great opportunity for the Sustainable Food Places network and local groups to ensure our future local elected leaders, no matter their political party, take good food seriously. Our objective is not to influence the result of elections or favour one candidate over another. Party political impartiality is vital for effective campaigning and the credibility and success of food partnerships. For places not yet members of Sustainable Food Places, the local elections offer a unique opportunity to call for a food partnership in your local area.
The first step is to identify your calls to action. Is it to establish a food partnership in your area? Is it to gain support to a few key areas in your food strategy? Is there one call to action that stands out for your organisation? You may want to draft a ‘manifesto’ outlining your priorities. You can do this on your own but your campaign will be stronger and more impactful when you collaborate and build alliances.
You can use the local elections as an opportunity to galvanize your steering group and wider network of supporters around the issues that are important to your food partnership or organisation. Involve your supporters in setting up key questions for candidates, define the top five or ten priorities for candidates or invite your supporters to go to hustings armed with key questions for candidates.
The next step is to research who are the candidates standing for local elections in your ward and local area. Mayor candidates are usually announced well in advance but councillor candidates for different wards may not be announced until the 9th of April deadline. Good sources of information are the webpages of your local political parties, local media or websites such as https://whocanivotefor.co.uk/ or https://candidates.democracyclub.org.uk/elections/.
As the candidates may not be announced until the 9th of April, you can write to the local political parties as a first point of call before this. Once candidates have been announced, which may be before April, writing to them directly will be most effective. Prioritize candidates in your ward and check if council leader and relevant cabinet members are up for re-election. Ask them to pledge support to the food partnership in your area, ask them questions, send them your calls to action, manifesto or food strategy and invite them for a meeting. Publish and disseminate their answers to your supporters so their commitments are made public.
Hustings are panel discussion where candidates' debate policies and answer questions from the audience. They're a great way to push candidates to make commitments on good food or other issues. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, hustings will be held online this year. If you are interested in organising an online hustings, Climate Action produced a handy guide.
Even if you don’t have capacity to organise hustings, there will be plenty of opportunities for you to participate in hustings organised by other organisations. Many candidates publish hustings they will be participating in their local websites. Check if environmental organisations or the local chamber of commerce are organising hustings. You can also invite members of your steering group and your supporters to go to hustings armed with key questions for candidates.
At the time of writing, easing of the national lockdown in England will happen in stages starting on the 8th of March. Some face-to-face interaction with candidates may be possible, respecting social distancing. Is there a food growing space, community kitchen or food hub that emboldens your vision? Is there a project they can invite in their ward? Visiting and experiencing projects first-hand and communicating with beneficiaries is a powerful way for candidates to understand the aims of your food partnership or organisation and get one step closer to make commitments.
Don’t forget to exercise your democratic right and vote!
Regardless of your political preferences, it’s important to congratulate the winners and arrange a follow up meeting. Hopefully by this stage you will have built a relationship with the candidates and they will be aware of the importance of your work. Some councillors may have made commitments relating to food in their campaigns, so build on this and encourage them to deliver on these promises, or explore how you can help them to do so.
We wrote a handy toolkit with ideas, templates and case studies from the network to help you get your priorities onto the agenda of candidates. Listen back to the campaigns meeting on local elections for handy tips from the network and councillors. Get in touch with the SFP campaigns team if you would like support on your local campaign.
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The ‘Building a food partnership’ theme of the SFP Toolkit – the pink section – contains resources to help you establish an appropriate and representative food partnership. In particular these resources will be useful:
Get the right people involved by encouraging and planning Stakeholder engagement and steering groups
Sustain's Food and Covid-19: How local authorities can support recovery and resilience report highlights three key areas that contribute to a strong local response: principles, processes and partnerships.
Bristol Food Policy Council secured strong references to food in the Health and Wellbeing Strategy. The HWB has a key strategic aim to use ‘our combined influence and commissioning to support work to tackle obesity, nutritional deficiency and food poverty’. The Health and Wellbeing Strategy has 10 key priorities, one of which is food (page 5). The aim is ‘to create a healthier, more sustainable, more resilient food system for the city to benefit the local economy and the environment’.