At the National Farmers’ Union annual conference today, Liberal Democrat Shadow Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Secretary, Tim Farron set out plans to reform the farm payments system and use the savings to support farm apprenticeships.
It currently costs an average of £1,743 to process farm payments which can be as low as 1p. Setting minimum payments of £300 would save up to £20m which the Liberal Democrats would use to provide farm apprenticeships and ensure the rural economy has a vibrant future.
In his speech, Tim Farron will also:
- Set out Liberal Democrat proposals for a powerful food market regulator, decrying Labour and Tory plans to introduce an ombudsman as nothing more than a fig leaf
- Condemn Government plans for an ‘animal tax’ on livestock farmers as an insulting attempt to pass the buck for disease preparation
Extracts of the speech are below:
The Liberal Democrats will fight to continue direct payments. We absolutely have to have reform; but we must not throw the baby out with the bath water. And now we have a new Commissioner, Mr Ciolos, the British Government would be out of its mind to continue in its position on the extreme anti direct payments wing of the EU. Not only are they wrong, but they have completely cut themselves off from the mainstream of discussion.
As one of my friends who farms a mile up the road from me, said, ‘British ministers have frozen themselves out – so my interests are being defended by the French now’…
We should use domestic schemes to ensure a future for those parts of the industry that struggle the most. Through restructuring of the RPA for example – by introducing a lower limit for farm payments of £300 – we would save up to £20million, remove the clutter in the system that leads to payment delays and reallocate funds to support farm apprenticeship schemes including a £7million hill farming apprenticeship scheme to ensure that our uplands has a strong, vibrant and youthful future.
Liberal Democrats believe that the biggest single problem facing farming today – whether it be in Cornwall or the Congo – is unfair trade. The power of the buyers, mostly the retailers, to offer a take-it-or-leave-it subsistence price to the relatively powerless producers…
The danger then is that as a public relations exercise, the Labour or Conservative concept of an ombudsman might come into being and end up being counterproductive. The existence of a relatively impotent ombudsman would then give the supermarkets political cover to allow them to demonstrate that they were being regulated when in reality they were not and we could end up in an even worse situation than we are in now.
Any system of regulation that the supermarket owners and their friends in the Conservative party would tolerate is bound – by definition – to be utterly inadequate.
Liberal Democrats will go beyond a reactive, sedentary supermarket ombudsman and create a strong food market regulator whose job it would be to go out and look for trouble on behalf of the farmer and the consumer. We want a proactive food market regulator who would constantly monitor prices and enforce the code of practice – absolutely not to set prices, but absolutely to prevent farmgate prices being fixed at an artificially low level!
Rather than using the ombudsman model, we need a hands on regulator, to stand up to powerful players in the market and ensure that fairness results.
was horrified when I saw the statement about cost sharing and the likely introduction of an animal disease levy. What an insult that a Government that was responsible for the 2007 foot and mouth outbreak is offering you guys the wonderful opportunity to pay extra to clean up their next expensive mistake, whatever that may be.
Don’t get me wrong, an animal health body could be very welcome if it prevents disease and if it helps to protect livestock. But what a cheek for the Government to tell us that its time that farmers accepted cost sharing. Cost sharing? I’ll tell you what, those farmers who had to accept a pittance for their stock because of the 2007 foot and mouth movement restrictions paid a lot more than their fair share of the costs of that outbreak! And lets be honest. The Government wants an animal disease body so that it can pass the buck for difficult decisions.