Stuart Roberts resigns from his role at AHDB
Stuart Roberts, AHDB board member and chairman of the AHDB Beef & Lamb sector board, has sparked strong reactions from the industry after announcing his resignation on August 28.
“This is the toughest decision I have ever taken, but I felt it is important to stand up for what I believe in, which is that agricultural levies belong to farmer and processor levy payers," he said in a resignation statement.
"It should be the industry, through their AHDB sector boards, that are responsible for determining how levies are used. At the present time I can foresee a realistic prospect of the levies, in the long term, being lost to the realms of a remote tax that the industry will have little or no influence over.
“This is a situation I am determined should not be allowed to happen and have therefore resigned as an AHDB board member and chairman of the AHDB Beef & Lamb sector board.
“The work of AHDB and its sector boards is invaluable and is crucial to the success of the industry. However, I have now realised that the direction of travel which I believe is currently being pursued by this government is not in line with my own fundamental principle about the importance of the sector boards and their sovereignty over levy priorities.
“The beef and lamb board is made up of some of the most dedicated and experienced individuals I have ever had the pleasure to work with and it is only they who can fully appreciate the needs of the sector and for the sake of the entire industry it is vital they themselves be given the freedom to determine future work for their sector.”
Roberts has so far declined to provide further explanation of his initial statement, but there is speculation that he was frustrated at increasing interference from government into the way levy payers' money was spent.
Ministers of the English, Welsh, Scottish and Northern Irish governments appoint AHDB board members and are involved in approving marketing campaigns.
English red meat
Some industry sources are suggesting that ministers' reluctance to endorse marketing spend to promote English red meat, including lamb, at a time of great struggle for the sector, was the last straw prompting Roberts' decision.
Andy Foot, chairman of the South West NFU’s livestock board, said: "Mr Roberts resigned because of the government’s refusal to sign-off a budget set aside for promoting British meat, resulting in the loss of a planned TV advertising campaign.
“It is vital that AHDB Beef and Lamb ensures that the work it undertakes best meets the needs of the industry on behalf of levy payers, and I am furious that this disgraceful situation has arisen”
“With increased lamb supply this year and falling prices a number of modest activities were scheduled for late summer and early autumn to highlight the versatility and availability of the product. However, for reasons that are not completely clear the levy payers’ funds required to do this have not been made available.
"Stuart has my complete support, and we must now stay united and send the message that it is essential that levy payers’ money is spent in the way levy payers want it to be spent."
Charles Sercombe, National Farmers Union (NFU) livestock chairman, said he was "saddened" to hear that Roberts had resigned. "I understand that he has taken this action on the principle that levy payers should determine how levies are spent.
“As a sheep farmer myself I can say that hundreds of farmers like me will be angry that promotional funding of beef and lamb by AHDB has not been approved by government.
“It is totally unacceptable for a whole planned marketing campaign to be put in jeopardy by government dithering and delay. Sheep farmers are now demanding increased marketing and promotion of lamb at this time in an attempt to counter low prices and make domestic consumers aware of the quality of our product.
“The [Defra] Secretary of State [Liz Truss] has said that she will do all she can to help the agricultural sector during a time of critically low prices. It is vital that measures like levy-funded trade development and the promotion of peak season lamb to the British public are available.
“For the NFU it is a fundamental point of principle that levy payers should decide how their levy money is spent. AHDB is about to set its future strategy. This must be done with full consultation and discussion with our industry.”
Speaking of the departure of Roberts, AHDB chair Peter Kendall said: “I am very saddened to hear that Stuart Roberts has offered his resignation as the AHDB board member responsible for beef and lamb.
“It is a real shame that Stuart did not feel able to raise his concerns about Defra with his colleagues on the main AHDB Board, so that I and my board members could have taken these up collectively with the minister.
'Strength of feeling'
“I have always fought passionately for the interests of this industry, and I am well aware of the strength of feeling from farmers and growers that levies belong to the industry.
“As AHDB moves forward, we will continue to make the strongest possible case to government to carry out the work that our boards believe has the biggest impact for the industry."
Roberts had been in his post for less than six months, having replaced John Cross as head of the English Beef and Lamb Executive (EBLEX), now AHDB Beef & Lamb, in March.
Stewart Houston stepped down from his role as chairman of the British Pig Executive (BPEX), now AHDB Pork, at the same time and was replaced by Meryl Ward. Paul Temple became head of AHDB's cereals and oilseed sector.
The appointments were made jointly by Defra ministers, the Scottish government, the Welsh government and the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development for Northern Ireland.
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