Examination of Witnesses

Part of Agriculture Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:25 pm on 11th February 2020.

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Jim Egan:

When you are on the receiving end of the inspection regime does not seem proportionate at all at the moment. It is heavy-handed. We all accept that there must be rules and that there has to be an inspection, but you are working on a farm, on a shop floor that has no straight edges. When somebody can come and deduct a payment for being four decimal places out in area, which is what it could go to, it does not feel right. It actually puts an awful lot of people off engaging with agri-environment schemes and measures because of the pure fear of the inspection. The inspectors are great people—they are doing a job—but they do not engage during their inspection process. There is a finality to the inspection process that says, “Mr Egan, you are wrong.” There is an appeals process, but there is no face to face. That is not a very nice place to be.

It would be better if it was done in a much more approachable way. We all accept that a lot of money goes into the industry, but we should be approachable. We should be able to say, “Oh, I didn’t quite get that right.” If it is a minor infringement, it is nothing. There will be something else on the farm that delivers above and beyond what it was intended to, but it is never taken into account.

When I worked at the Allerton project, we had three inspections in seven years. That is in a place where there is a board of trustees, a management team and we all get on. There is a lot of pressure on the people responsible for that. Imagine being on a farm on your own. It is not a good place. It needs to be more human and a better process.

As for success for me, do you mean in terms of the scheme or the inspection regime?