The phrase “it’s the hope that kills you” is said to have originated – in sentiment if not exact wording – with the Roman philosopher Seneca the Younger, but it is human instinct to get excited when the old is swept away and the new is full of promises of better times ahead.

The new Labour government in the UK – taking power after 14 years spent in what was once memorably described as the Siberia of opposition – is aiming to hit the ground running and with a huge majority following last week’s General Election has a mandate to take action to make improvements across all industries.

In welcoming the new government, food industry bodies have reiterated some of their pre-election wish list items and in doing so have provided new Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) secretary Steve Reed with an aide-mémoire of some of the major issues he has to deal with.

Rod Addy, director general of the Provision Trade Federation, said: “PTF welcomes the incoming government and, together with the rest of the industry, is poised to work with it to address the immediate obstacles and challenges to maximising UK growth.

“These include food security and barriers to international trade, climate change impact and mitigation, the cost-of-living crisis, the health crisis and labour and skills shortages. While the government will face financial constraints, there are great opportunities for it to work in partnership with the pork, dairy and fish industries to bolster UK employment and GDP to secure common goals.”

And Karen Betts, chief executive of the Food and Drink Federation, said: “With the right conditions, our industry can boost investment, productivity, innovation and growth across our economy. There is huge scope to improve trade too, and to grow skills everywhere throughout the country, offering more people good jobs and great careers in a sector that’s central to everyone’s everyday lives.”

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Working across departments

Reed will be aware that issues linked to skills and labour shortages will involve him acting cross-departmentally with the likes of the Home Office but Labour sentiments about working more closely with the European Union on issues linked to trade and immigration will provide some hope that improvements can be made that will give agri-food businesses the ability to bring in workers from overseas where labour-force gaps have appeared post-Brexit.

The ‘agri’ bit of the industry will be pleased that Minette Batters, the former president of the National Farmers’ Union, has been given a peerage and she should prove to be a strong voice for farmers and growers in the House of Lords.

But food processors and manufacturers, which sometimes felt overlooked in talks between the previous government and the wider agri-food sector, and industry watchers will note that there has not as yet been any discussion about creating a dedicated food minister or appointing a food industry specialist in a food tzar-type role, looking at issues such as the fight against obesity.

In opposition, Labour promised to introduce a pre-9pm watershed ban on advertising of unhealthy food products aimed at kids. Campaign groups are sure to press them to stick to its word in this regard and it will be interesting to see what other devices the new government uses to tackle weight-based problems that are putting such a strain on the National Health Service.

Plenty for the new government to go at then in agri-food terms. The first 100 days of a new government are usually when a lot of the heavy lifting is done in terms of future policy initiatives so we shouldn’t have long to wait to find out what its plans are in more detail.