Examination of Witnesses

Part of Agriculture Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 12:12 pm on 25th October 2018.

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Jack Ward:

In terms of the producer organisation, going forward, first we want a single scheme if we can possibly achieve it so that we have a common scheme in all the devolved areas, so that we have not got a different scheme in Scotland from the one that we have in the UK. Within the producer organisations, if you take soft fruit, there is a massive amount of production in Scotland and a lot of them are members of English-based POs. That is really important.

We want the principle of match funding to continue. That has been a really valuable part of it—the idea that the farmer or grower puts in £1 and the taxpayer puts in £1. That binds the two together in a common aim, which is really important. We want a fairly thorough review of the scheme. We need to get into the nuts and bolts of it and cut out the superfluous bits. From conversations with the Rural Payments Agency, it knows as well as we do where all the wrinkles are, so there is a meeting of minds there. We want more flexibility around the way the money can be invested. Sometimes, it is too restrictive and gets in the way of making sensible things, rather than having to spread it across several different areas.

The other thing is to make it more UK-centric. At the moment, it is set up for a southern European production-marketing model. As I have said, we deal with nine customers, and they operate in a very different way from the rest of the EU. We are constantly in a position where we are looking over our shoulder and second-guessing how the EU might interpret what we are doing in the UK. We are worried. The RPA is worried. We need to deal with that.

In terms of supply chain fairness, there needs to be a better meeting of minds between retailers and producers. I will give you a simple example. At the moment, we are right in the middle of the English apple season, but we are overwhelmed with southern hemisphere fruit that has been over-bought and is dominating the market—and probably will until Christmas. We have mountains of fruit that needs to move, and yet there is all that southern hemisphere fruit. Eventually, that cascades into difficult conversations between suppliers and retailers. Often, it is about more clarity between the two sides, so we understand what is going on and how we can make the system work better.