A statement from The Rt Hon Margaret Hodge MP, Chair of the Committee of Public Accounts:
Farmers, the food industry and consumers all place their trust in government inspections to assure us that England’s fields and farmyards are healthy. However, current arrangements shoulder compliant farmers with an unacceptable and disproportionate burden. The sheer number and scale of inspections are staggering. In 2011-12, nine central government bodies and local authorities visited farms in England at least 114,000 times. There are approximately 105,000 commercial farms in England and an unknown number of smallholdings. Each inspecting body applied its own regulatory regime and between them modelled risk in 25 different ways. The department needs to get a grip on this fragmented regulatory landscape that is rife with wasteful duplication. I find it extraordinary that a dairy farmer can expect a visit from as many as eight separate government bodies that all too often ask the same questions.
The department’s poor and patchy data means it is blind to the scale of oversight activity and cannot be certain whether visits even improve compliance. Without gathering routine information, the department is unaware and unable to quantify risk or spot overlaps and opportunities to cut back the number of inspections through coordination of visits.
The department needs to inject urgency into its work to radically improve its approach. Good practice, at present in pockets such as the regional forum in the East of England, needs to be spread throughout the country as a matter of priority. The department needs to put a plan in place to better understand risk in order to minimise the inspection of low risk farms. It must also learn from Scotland’s success in coordinating visits in order to bring down the overall number of visits.