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News, Blogs & Press Releases » Local elections: Councils can support a plant-based future

Local elections: Councils can support a plant-based future

A woman casting a ballot as she votes in the local elections.

With local and mayoral elections taking place across the UK on Thursday 2nd May, we look at how local politics can have an impact on vegetarian provision.

N.B. As a campaigning charity with a rich policy work programme, the Vegetarian Society holds no party affiliation. However, we are determined in our campaigning for animal welfare, the sustainable food agenda, the climate, and the provision of vegetarian and vegan choices for the public.

This Thursday 2nd May, local and mayoral elections will take place across the United Kingdom. These contests will cover thousands of councillors across 107 local councils in England, and 10 directly elected mayors in areas such as Greater Manchester, the West Midlands and London.

It’s important to understand the scope that local councillors have. They cannot change laws like members of parliament can, and councils are often dependent on funding allocated by government departments. The biggest driver of change from a policy and behavioural point of view will always be the national government. However, local councils can choose how to implement these policies to suit the communities they represent, both through passing motions at full council meetings and how they decide to carry out their everyday functions.

Of course, charities like the Vegetarian Society are most concerned with how councils further the uptake of meat-free, low-carbon foods, and several local authorities are already driving this change. Numerous local councils across the UK have already passed motions endorsing the Plant-Based Treaty, an international movement which aims to put food at the heart of the climate crisis and promote a shift to healthier, more sustainable plant-based diets. Councils in the UK that have endorsed the treaty already include Belfast, Edinburgh, Norwich, and Lambeth.

The biggest way that councils can facilitate a shift towards healthier, low-carbon diets is through their significant sway over the public sector. In addition to their own offices, councils hold a statutory responsibility for overseeing vital public services such as education, social housing, and social care, including how schools and care homes are run. They therefore have huge potential influence when it comes to helping to change public behaviour and drive greater food choice. One example of how they can do this is by stipulating that caterers offer vegetarian and vegan food on their menus as a default, a cause that we at the Vegetarian Society have long been campaigning for.

Local councils don’t just positively influence people’s diets on a direct basis; the decisions they make can have an indirect beneficial impact too. This could include creating more green spaces like parks and gardens, for example, or supporting the creation of more community allotments. It could even extend to tackling food waste through their oversight of waste management and the provision of food waste bins, or making agreements with businesses. It’s clear to see that councils can have a definite and positive impact on the local vegetarian and vegan landscape.

Of course, all this is dependent on elected councillors having both the political will to make these changes and the ability to make them. As a charity, we proudly state on our website that we aim to create strong, supportive communities, backing positive individual actions while lobbying for larger societal shifts. We know that small changes – if carried out by many people – can make an enormous difference. We also know the role that vegetarianism can play in helping to fight climate change and lower emissions, a goal that many councils currently have as they aim to meet their net-zero targets. We will always work constructively with local communities and policymakers to achieve the radical change we seek.

The question of who gets elected as our mayors and councillors is important, as they have more power than most to protect and further the causes we care about. Whoever you vote for this Thursday, you have the opportunity to make use of hard-won democratic rights and support vegetarianism and veganism by choosing the individuals you believe can make a difference. While it is true that local authority budgets have been eroded over time, we firmly believe that our local politicians can still play a vital role in creating a kinder, healthier, and more sustainable future.

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