Looks good but will it deliver?
10 June 2011
The report by Richard MacDonald's "Farming Regulation Task Force" is a comprehensive and fascinating review of the regulatory problems faced by farmers and food processors. It even seems to supply answers to those problems.
The proposed effect should be to reduce paperwork and bureaucracy. However, we are not being invited to return to a "golden age" when individuals were left to their own devices. The reality is that public opinion and EU legislation demand that there is regulation. What is proposed is that the government delivers "better regulation", not liberalisation.
In order to do this, the Report recommends a change in the relationship between the regulatory authorities and farmers. The authorities should concentrate on achieving the purpose of the law (the "outcome"), not the creation of new processes; the farming or food processing business will face less box ticking in return for adopting a more thoughtful and responsible approach. Instead of endless forms, there should be a strategic overview from the authority, and proportionate punishment if the desired outcome is not achieved.
The Report does seem to be a genuine attempt to listen to and assist landowners, farmers and others in food production. The proposals to allow small agricultural buildings to be erected without prior approval from the planning authority and the Report's opposition to the capping of SFP claims are examples of this attitude.
But how realistic are the proposals? Attractive solutions to "red tape issues" will be tested strenuously, and many of them will fall victim to other pressures, the most significant of which will be European legislation. The idea that entitlements might be abandoned can only be within the gift of Europe. When it comes to cross compliance the test in Europe will be whether proposed changes bring greater benefit (including social benefit) to the general public, and the potential reduction in time consuming processes for farmers is not high on that list.
It is certainly welcome to find that the government is listening to the voice of agriculture, but let us not assume that everything the MacDonald Committee wishes for will actually come to pass.
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