To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, what steps his Department is taking to support companies in the horticultural sector to (a) expand, (b) develop skills and (c) improve business management.
The Government is taking a number of steps to support companies in the horticulture sector. In November, Defra launched the Farming Investment Fund which provides grants to farmers and horticultural growers to improve their businesses and bring further environmental benefits. The schemes have proved incredibly popular with unprecedented levels of demand. We are keen to support farmers and horticultural producers during this period of Agricultural Transition and help drive business growth. As a result, we have responded by approving a significant budget increase for round one of the Farming Equipment and Technology Fund from £21 million to £48.5 million. We hope this is well received by the horticulture sector and helps provide further access to funding for those who wish to take up the offer of grant funding support.
We will continue to support Research and Development in the horticulture and wider agricultural sectors going forward, for example, through the Farming Innovation Programme. Furthermore, the Government is contributing towards the establishment of a new professional body, the Institute for Agriculture and Horticulture. This initiative is aimed at removing the fragmentation that exists within current learning and skills landscape for farming businesses, enabling the industry to drive forward greater uptake of skills (including basic business management), creating clear career development pathways and promoting the sector as a progressive, professional and attractive career choice. The Government is also working with industry bodies to improve access to the talent and skills required within the industry and we are taking action through our apprenticeship programme and post-16 Skills Plan to reform technical education and new Careers Strategy.
The Government’s new ‘Help to Grow’ scheme will help small business across the UK learn new skills, reach new customers and boost profits. Help to Grow: Management aims to deliver an intensive leadership and management training programme to up to 30,000 small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) across the UK to improve SME leadership and management skills and address firm-level productivity challenges. The programme has been developed in partnership with industry and is designed to be manageable alongside full-time work. It combines a practical curriculum with 1:1 support from a business mentor, peer-learning sessions and an alumni network, equipping SMEs with the tools to grow their businesses. The programme is delivered by leading business schools across the UK and is 90% subsidised by the Government, with participants contributing £750.