The announcement that the Meat & Livestock Commission was to be wound up by April 2008 might not have come as a surprise for many in the industry. But there was disappointment in some quarters on the lack of detail about the new replacement infrastructure, and the timescale for putting it in place.
Instead of five agricultural levy bodies, as it currently stands, there will be a single over-arching body, known as Levy Board UK - a non departmental public body - with six specific sector com-
panies, as recommended by
economist Rosemary Radcliffe last November. Two sector companies will represent the meat industry's
interests - one for beef and lamb, and the other for pork.
But the announcement by Lord Rooker, Minister for Sustainable Farming and Food, that there is to be yet another review entitled Fresh Start caused frustration. Radcliffe spent seven months prior to November consulting with the industry. Now, a further seven months down the line, it seems Defra is doing nothing more than passing the buck by handing responsibility to a yet-to-be appointed chairman-designate and an incoming levy board. Even worse, it appears the Fresh Start review will not get underway until early 2007, when these appointments have been made.
Lord Rooker said the timescale originally mooted by Radcliffe had to be moved because of the complexity of some of the issues that needed to be addressed - in particular the need for secondary legislation to enact the proposed changes to the existing structure. He added: "The government will need time to complete the public appointment for a new board."
Criticisms about the need for another consultation were swiftly deflected by Lord Rooker who said there would be no formal public consultation on the Radcliffe proposals. Instead, there is to be a consultation on the statutory instrument establishing the new arrangements.
In the proposals outlined last week, Levy Board UK will be responsible to ministers and levy-payers for expenditure, setting levy rates and monitoring the activities of sector companies to ensure they fall within the relevant sector strategy, although the board could decide to delegate collection to the sector companies, according to Lord Rooker.
The new board will consist of six chairmen of the sector-specific companies and four independent members, one of whom will be overall chairman.
Lord Rooker said the proposed changes were not just about
financial savings but also about improving accountability, cohesiveness and industry ownership of the boards.
The business case will continue to be developed over the next 18 months, he said, with the extent of any financial savings dependent on decisions taken over the intervening period on the type of services to be provided at a corporate level.
Response to the minister's
announcement was muted.
Maurice McCartney, of the British Processor's Association (BMPA), said a comprehensive and transparent bottom-up Fresh Start review received little emphasis in the Defra announcement. "It will be by the quality of the activity review that the processing sector will measure the success of the Radcliffe Report and this Defra decision against," he said
Quality Meat Scotland and HCC/Meat Promotion Wales, are to be retained separately from meat sector companies in England when the new structure is introduced in 2008. Changes to the existing structures, which are be enacted through legislation by the Welsh Assembly and Scottish Executive, remain to be seen. QMS, at present, is controlled by three nominated owners - NFU
Scotland, the Scottish
Association of Meat Wholesalers and the MLC - which can overrule the board of directors.
QMS chairman Donald Biggar said: "The remit of QMS was expanded in 2003 in order that levy money raised in Scotand could be spent in Scotland to benefit Scottish businesses. During the past three years, significant progress has been made on delivering a broad range of activities across the whole red meat chain with the core aim of improving efficiency and profitability. The commitment by the Scottish Executive for a continuation of a separate meat promotion body is a welcome endorsement of our work to date."
HCC/Meat Promotion Wales voiced similar sentiments. "We are proud of our achievements and our very close links to our levy payers across Wales and I believe that this has been recognised and endorsed by the Minister Carwyn Jones in making this decision," said HCC chairman Rees Roberts.