At the annual National Association of Master Bakers conference in Blackpool members heard that the decline in membership that has taken place over recent years has been halted.

While 33 members had been lost due to retirements, closures and sales of businesses, 37 new members had been gained. Although it is a marginal gain, it is the first one in many years. The association’s accounts are also in the best shape for a long time, showing a healthy profit that was declared to members.

There has been no increase in membership rates for the second year running and there is even the possibility that, in 2009, there may be a small decrease, according to chief executive Gill Brooks Lonican! During 2008/9 the NA will be putting on more seminars for its members, supported by Cali- fornia Raisins.

Christopher Freeman, of Dunns of Crouch End, proposed that non-executive directors be invited to join the board because "as existing members we are so locked into bakery that we need someone from the outside to look in". He suggested they might bring a fresh approach and should stand for up to three years. They should be paid expenses only like other board directors.

Freeman also spoke in favour of the the forthcoming National Bakery Skills Academy, stating he was concerned that if the NA did not support it, the government would simply impose a training levy. Chairman of the board Shirley Ryder pointed out that London and south-eastern represenatative Ian Wilson was on the steering committee and would report back to the NA on any viability and progress. However, she made the point that current NA training is approved by City & Guilds.

On a lighter, but still important note, Mike Holling and Gill Brooks Lonican announced that the next Wallace & Gromit film, A Matter of Loaf or Death would be released in time for Christmas and provided a great opportunity for publicity for high street bakers. Wallace & Gromit are great supporters of small shops and the NA will be promoting lots of memorabilia associated with the film, including Wallace & Gromit ties and mugs.

Outgoing president of the NA, Mike Holling of Birds of Derby, had earlier welcomed Irish president Patrick Smyth and his wife, Angela, and Scottish president Joe MacDonald to the conference. Holling said he had much enjoyed meeting other bakers during his year of office and he thanked his wife and son, for their support. At the conference banquet, he showed an interesting video presentation of his year in office, including meeting Joanna Lumley at the Baking Industry Awards.

The conference AGM concluded with two seminars: one from Ed Garner of TNS UK Worldpanel, who said that provenance, not price, is the key driver for consumers and that premium is still growing; in the other, Professor Jeya Henry of Oxford Brookes said the government would continue to look at food to help prevent health problems.