Essington Farm

A Message from Lord Pickles and Lord Blunkett, followed by Essington Farm's best practice article

The ability to listen and learn from one another has always been vital in parliament, in business and in most aspects of daily life. But at this particular moment in time, as national and global events continue to reiterate, it is uncommonly crucial that we forge new channels of communication and reinforce existing ones. The following article from Essington Farm is an attempt to do just that. We would welcome your thoughts on this or any other Parliamentary Review article.

Blunkett signature Rt Hon The Lord David Blunkett
Pickles signature Rt Hon The Lord Eric Pickles

Director William Simkin
Harvesting our homegrown
sprouts at Christmas
Essington Farm is a family-run farm and retail business,
managed by the Simkin family for over 120 years. The
business is divided between the farm, a shop and an on-
site restaurant, which serves their fruit and vegetable crop,
free-range pigs and pedigree Hereford cattle. Based in the
West Midlands, 90 per cent of their customers originate from
within a 10-mile radius and their 70 employees serve more
than 250,000 customers each year. Director William Simkin tells
TheParliamentary Review
Identifying what our customers want before supplying it to them is key in a farm
retail business such as ours. Although this sounds simple, knowing which product
people want to buy, how and in what form is more complicated than many people
think. I am a firm believer in never sacrificing quality for price. The vast majority of
our customers are repeat customers who shop with us because they appreciate our
commitment to quality. It can take many years to build regular and loyal customers
such as these but it only takes a couple of bad experiences to lose them. We pride
ourselves on offering excellent customer service as customers need to feel valued,
and this is best achieved by the personal touch.
Value has become increasingly important to the consumer in all aspects of retailing,
none more so than in farm retailing when the consumer can often buy a similar
product more cheaply elsewhere. There are many different aspects to value
other than price. Quality and customer service play a massive role in a customer’s
perception of value and we always try to ensure top levels of both. Providing a
unique product and marketing it successfully also influences value. A good example
»Director: William Simkin
»Established in 1892
»Based in Wolverhampton
»Services: Farming and retail
»No. of employees: 70
Essington Farm
Highlighting best practice
of this is our grass-fed pedigree
Hereford beef. This is a quality, unique
product, sold with excellent customer
service and marketed effectively,
highlighting its quality and providing
the customer with a real sense of
value, which will hopefully result in
repeat transactions.
In today’s digital word, consumer
trends can change quickly. Because
of our small, independent nature,
we have the ability to adapt to
these changes more quickly than
most. Customer concerns about
the environment, animal welfare
and the packaging have all been
swiftly addressed. Again, this meets
customers’ needs in the form of social
or environmental responsibility.
The role of our staff and
One of our strengths, and weaknesses,
is that we employ from a wide range
of sectors, with all of these employees
having to work together to deliver
the finished product to the customer
successfully. This process covers the
farm staff who have to ensure our pigs
are produced to the correct standards,
the butcher who cuts it up, the chef
who cooks it and finally the person
who sells it to the customer. Although
complicated, this does give us a story
and ultimate traceability, something
that our customers value enormously.
Finding the right person to work in a
unique business such as ours has never
been harder. We offer a wide variety
of contracts to suit each individual
employee. Some of our employees
prefer to work on a casual contract or,
as it has become known, a zero-hours
contract. For us and our employees
this is a suitable and amicable way
of working. They may be students
or even retired workers who want to
work, but on a basis that suits them
whereby they are not tied down to a
regular commitment. Recognition of
this is important and the stigma of
zero-hours contracts, in our view, is
There is a huge skill shortage in
butchery, catering and agriculture,
with recruitment and staff
Our free range pigs
Finding the
right person
to work in a
business such
as ours has
never been
management being the most
challenging area of the business.
We have had some success with
offering butchery apprenticeships and
training our own butchers. I would
urge the government to expand and
actively promote these vocational
apprenticeships. For far too long,
professions in the butchery and
catering industries have been seen in a
negative way by many in the UK. With
Brexit upon us, the question marks
surrounding availability of EU labour
and the skill shortage among the UK
population, something has to change
in order to avoid a skilled labour black
hole in the food sector.
The amount of employment legislation
we face can make the task of running
a successful business that is open seven
days per week with 70 employees
much more difficult. There seems to be
no end to the increases in legislation
and costs involved in employing
people. While done with the best of
intentions, ultimately these cannot be
sustainable without with price rises
direct to the customer.
The future of farm retailing
Looking to the future, I am optimistic
but also cautious. The challenges
we will face are largely out of our
hands and, as ever, we will do our
best to adapt to change. I believe it is
important to keep to our values and
keep offering good-quality products
from our farm and excellent customer
service while providing our customers
with an enjoyable experience when
they are here. We need to retain
the family touch and the close link
between the farm and shop to
maintain a genuine farm-shop feel.
The rise of veganism and changing
consumer trends will change what we
sell and how we sell it. Adapting to
these changes and offering compelling
reasons why consumers should buy our
products will be key.
The increasing level and bureaucracy
and legislation that we as farmers
and retailers are subject to can
sometimes be quite suffocating; it
is ultimately unsustainable. In the
future, for a varied business like ours,
less viable parts of the business may
have to be dropped because of this
I am aware of the All-Party
Parliamentary Group for Animal
Welfare’s inquiry into the declining
numbers of small abattoirs. They are a
massively over-regulated industry with
urgent reform required. I would like
to stress my support for this inquiry
and emphasise what an important
facility they are for businesses such as
ours. Local abattoirs are essential for
ensuring high levels of animal welfare
as they are often close to the farms
and so avoid animals having to endure
long journeys to slaughter. They are
also less stressful places for the animals
once they are there. The environmental
benefits of this speaks for itself. As
we are so reliant on the local abattoir,
without it, the feasibility of running
our business would be put into
question. I urge the government to
support local abattoirs and recognise
their importance as a public good.
I urge the
to support
local abbatoirs
and recognise
importance as
a public good
The farm shop

This article was sponsored by Essington Farm. The Parliamentary Review is wholly funded by the representatives who write for it. The publication in which this article originally appeared contained the following foreword from Rt Hon Michael Gove.

Rt Hon Michael Gove's Foreword For The Parliamentary Review

By Rt Hon Michael Gove

This year's Parliamentary Review comes at a momentous time for parliament, as we collectively determine the destiny of the United Kingdom. 

On October 31, the UK will leave the European Union. The successful implementation of this process is this government's number-one priority.

Three years after a historic referendum vote, we will deliver on the decisive mandate from the British people. Trust in our democracy depends on it. Until that final hour, we will work determinedly and diligently to negotiate a deal, one that abolishes the backstop and upholds the warm and close relationship we share with our friends, allies and neighbours in the EU. But in the event that the EU refuses to meet us at the table, we must be prepared to leave without a deal.

As the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, it is my job to lead on this government's approach, should that scenario happen. Preparing for Brexit is my department's driving mission. But while I am leading this turbocharged effort, the whole of government is committed to this endeavour.

Ministers across Whitehall are working together to ensure that every possibility is considered, every plan is scrutinised and every provision is made. A daily drumbeat of meetings means that we are holding departments accountable, so that preparations are completed on time.

The chancellor has confirmed that all necessary funding will be made available. And we have mobilised thecivil service, assigning 15,000 of our most talented civil servants to manage our exit from the EU.

We will make sure that on November 1, there is as little disruption to national life as possible. Our trade relationships will continue to thrive, thanks to agreements with countries around the world worth £70 billion. Our country will remain secure, thanks to nearly 1,000 new officers posted at our borders. And the 3.2 million EU nationals now living and working among us can remain confident, with absolute certainty, of their right to remain in the UK.

Above all, our goal is to be transparent. Soon, we will launch a public information campaign so that citizens, communities and businesses are ready and reassured about what will happen in the event of “no deal”.

In my first few weeks in this role, I have travelled to ports and tarmacs, borders and bridges, all across the UK –from the seaside of Dover to the rolling green hills of County Armagh. I have heard from business owners and border officials, farmers and hauliers. They are ready to put an end to uncertainty. And they are ready to embrace the opportunities ahead.

Our departure from the EU will be a once in a lifetime chance to chart a new course for the United Kingdom. Preparing for that new course will be a herculean effort. But this country has made astounding efforts before. We can do it again.
Rt Hon Michael Gove
Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster