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Resignation Sparks Levy Debate Over State Interference

26 August 2015

UK – Government involvement in determining farming levy expenditure is a hot topic in the UK this week following the resignation of a senior levy board member.

The Agriculture and Horticulture Development board’s Stuart Roberts raised alarm bells on the government’s increasing involvement in levy payments by resigning from his role as chairman of the beef and lamb division on Tuesday.

Media sources have reported his dismay at government (Defra) “stonewalling” of a mini-roast promotion push for beef and lamb planned for the autumn.

The levy boards’ role is to use money from the sale of produce to invest in the development of the industry through marketing campaigns, trade missions and research and development into increasing farm returns and efficiency.

However, as BBC Radio Four’s Farming Today programme pointed out, levies are regulated via a statutory instrument and are considered taxes, meaning government has a say on spending.

Mr Roberts said levy-payers’ money is at risk of becoming “a remote tax” the industry will have “little or no influence over”.

He told Farming Today the decision was the toughest of his life.

He added: “Over a period of months and weeks I have seen a tougher stance out of government about expenditure and I got to the point where I felt I had to publicly say something about this to make sure we could all move on to this debate about where we should spend money and ownership of levies."

AHDB Chair Peter Kendall said he was “saddened” by the development and that it was “a real shame” he did not feel able to raise his concerns with AHDB colleagues on the main board.

National Sheep Association chief executive, Phil Stocker, applauded Mr Roberts for making a “principled decision”.

He said it “confirms weeks of speculation” about Defra interference on levy board spending.

He added: “The factors behind low lamb returns, which have now continued for some months, have rightly resulted in more attention being focused to driving domestic demand that include generic promotion of lamb.

“We recognise that AHDB Beef and Lamb (previously Eblex) has long had a process of having to have such promotional activity signed off by Defra, but this year that sign-off process has stagnated at ministerial level, which is a hopeless state of affairs that is not helping our industry one bit.

“NSA understands that previously the sign-off was simply a formality, as the responsibility of allocating levy money was rightly seen as the responsibility of the AHDB Beef and Lamb Board.

“To witness this level of ministerial intervention this year, at a time when the industry is in great need, is inexcusable.”

Michael Priestley

Michael Priestley
News Team - Editor

Mainly production and market stories on ruminants sector. Works closely with sustainability consultants at FAI Farms.

Top image via Shutterstock



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