Set in Stoneleigh

The location of the streamlined new levy board at Stoneleigh will ultimately achieve cost savings, but a more immediate concern is to minimise any loss of knowledge and skills. Keren Sall reports

With the Madeleine McCann case and Northern Rock hogging the headlines, last week's announcement that the headquarters of the new restructured levy board and its six sector companies is to be Stoneleigh, Warwickshire, from April 2009, went unmentioned by the national press. This was despite the wide-ranging implications the move will have on the people employed by the horticultural and agricultural levy boards, which could face losing staff with core knowledge and skills if they choose not to relocate. The business case, undeniably, stacks in favour of

having one headquarters instead of the 19 premises presently occupied by the six sector companies, as Rosemary Radcliffe advocated in her 2005 report,


While the move to Stoneleigh, which will be borne by all sectors, will initially incur an estimated £12.5m in transition costs in the first year, the business case shows that these costs are more than offset by positive cash flow and incentives from Advantage West Midlands, leading to £1.5m positive cash flow in 2009, said John Bridge, chair designate of the levy board.

He added that the Accenture business case showed that savings of £12.7m could be achieved by co-locating all the sector companies and the levy board at Stoneleigh. "Moreover, there will be a number of other benefits to be gained from the levy board moving to a site where a number of key rural organisations are based."

Bridge also conceded that the board had considered locating at Milton Keynes, but decided in favour of Stoneleigh because some stakeholders expressed concerns that the long association of Milton Keynes with the MLC would detract from the levy board's new start. "For some sectors, a move to Milton Keynes might have been seen as an MLC takeover," he said.

He also acknowledged that while the risks and redundancies are greater for the move to Stoneleigh, it represents the greatest savings of any of the options, including Milton Keynes.


Nobody can help but appreciate that the meat industry has had a difficult time with rocketing feed prices, foot-and-mouth disease and its repercussions on exports. Now, it has to manage sensitively the transition process to a rationalised structure, which may lead to some job losses, without too much disruption both to employees and the levy payers it serves. It could be argued, as farming minister Jeff Rooker did when he announced the location of the new board, which will be called the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board or AHDB for short, that the move to Stoneleigh will give a degree of comfort to employees, now that the period of uncertainty is over. While some will relocate, others may decide to jump ship because they do not want to move or commute to Stoneleigh.


It is matter of which Stewart Houston, chairman of the British Pig Executive, is acutely aware. "The big worry would be losing a huge depth of background and knowledge and, while we welcome the co-location with other sectors, EBLEX and BPEX will have to work closely on arrangements for joint staff or staff-sharing, because there are some core skills to do with the meat sector that we would not like to lose."

He added that he was working with the Beef and Lamb company sector chairman John Cross and the sector CEOs to ensure this happens. "The end game is great. We will be save money by delivering better, because we are working together, but getting there is going to be tricky because of the difficulties facing the red meat sector, such as FMD and spiralling feed prices. We have to ensure we keep delivering for the meat industry."

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