The ethical and environmental reasons for buying local are numerous and often discussed. Reducing our carbon footprint, helping the local economy and preserving our identity are important principles and something we should all consider. But, for me, it’s also a question of looking at value rather than cost.
Those sausages in Tesco are cheap, but are they as tasty as the ones Paul makes in Dyffryn? It’s very likely that they’ve been made from imported meat (or have themselves been imported), and it’s pretty certain that the meat content is low in both volume and quality. When you buy locally produced food, there are fewer ‘food miles’ involved. This is better for the environment, because fewer food miles means a smaller carbon footprint – but it’s also better for animal welfare. Because they’re better quality, they may cost a little more; but there’s more to ‘value’ than ‘price’, and the old saying ‘you get what you pay for’ comes to mind here.
Local knowledge is another good reason to buy locally. A law firm from London will have massive resources – but will they have the local knowledge of Dylan from Bala? Sarah Beeny’s online estate agency may be cheap, but can she tell you which street to buy in if you’re looking for the best after-school activities for your kids in Pwllheli, like a local agent such as Dafydd Hardy can? Again, it comes down to the difference between price and value.
That Pandora bracelet is lovely, but does it have the real beauty of one crafted by hand by Ann in her workshop in Caernarfon? Pandora is a Danish company with over 16,000 employees – more than 11,000 of whom are based at the company’s manufacturing plant in Thailand. When you buy a Pandora product, even at a local store, the majority of the profits go to shareholders – not into the local economy. Pandora is 5% owned by BlackRock, Inc, an American global investment corporation and the world’s largest asset manager. When you buy a Pandora product (or indeed any other mass-produced product under a global brand) you’re contributing towards an overseas shareholder’s latest holiday home, Chanel handbag or fancy sports car; by comparison, when you buy Ann’s handmade bracelet you’re helping her to feed her family and give her kids a few nice treats. From an ethical standpoint, I know whose product I’d prefer to give my wife for her birthday!
In recent weeks we’ve had a referendum in the UK which has shown the public favours leaving the EU. A central part of the discussion has been what happens to EU migrants, which includes Brits living in the EU as well as EU migrants living here. In Spain alone there are some 300,000 British-born residents, and across the entire EU region it’s around 1.2m. Many of these people are retirees, drawing their UK state pension and spending it in their country of residence, rather than in the UK. To my mind, shopping at chain stores and multinationals is a similar issue: profits are transferred to overseas shareholders and so the benefits this money could bring to our local economy – including employment, and taxation which pays for essential services – are lost. By shopping locally, not only are you getting better quality goods with a lower environmental impact, but instead of buying Hank in New York yet another Porsche, you’re buying little Sioned in Blaenau Ffestiniog a course of ballet lessons, or helping Osian from Waunfawr to train to become the next Gareth Bale.
As a nation, we in Wales are always putting ourselves down. Always thinking that they do it better in England. Always doubting the ability of local businesses to compete. I blame Edward I! But bigger, faster, cheaper isn’t always better. We need to look at value, not cost. And for me, buying locally offers the best value.