SOUTHEND is to step up its efforts to win official Fairtrade status.

Members of the borough council's cabinet have backed a report on the subject from head of procurement Dave Levy.

Mr Levy said the council had been buying Fairtrade tea and coffee since 2006.

But he said it needed to take more of a lead in promoting Fairtrade products across the town, by consulting with consumers and traders about their reasons for buying and selling or not buying or selling Fairtrade produce.

The Fairtrade mark is an independent consumer label awarded by the Fairtrade Foundation. It guarantees producers in developing counties receive a fair deal on more than 1,500 farmed products.

To be named an official Fairtrade town, Southend would need to meet a number of criteria including having at least two Fairtrade products available in 32 or more shops and 16 or more catering establishments.

Southend had already achieved this, the report said.

Mr Levy recommended setting up a steering group to promote the Fairtrade ideal across the town.

He said this ought to include a wide variety of interest-groups, including councillors, residents, businesses, schools and colleges.

John Lamb, Tory deputy leader of the council, observed: "We should not just think of fair trade for those from developing countries, but also for our own farmers in this country."