COMMONS

Committee presses Government for further clarity over future of agricultural funding post-Brexit

18 October 2019

Following the Government’s response to the Scottish Affairs Committee’s report on the future of Scottish agriculture post-Brexit, Committee Chair, Pete Wishart MP, has written to the Defra Secretary of State, Theresa Villiers MP, calling for more information in response to some of its key recommendations.

Agricultural Funding

The Committee recommended that the Government depart from an outdated method of allocating agricultural funding amongst the devolved nations which has failed to reflect Scotland’s unique agricultural conditions and practices and introduce a new system, and that a nation’s proportion of Less Favoured land (LFA) should be a central feature in determining how much funding it receives.

In response the Government has agreed with the Committee that agricultural funding should be distributed within the UK via an objective criteria that reflects the individual circumstances of each country, however it has argued that using less favoured land is an “inappropriate measure” to do so.

Following this, the Chair has pressed the Government for more detail on what the Government intends to use instead of LFA to determine each nation’s share of agricultural funding, and how this will reflect the different challenges each nation faces from the quality of their land.

Commenting on the response, Pete Wishart MP said:

“I am pleased that the Government has taken a serious and positive approach to securing the financial future of Scottish agriculture, and I am encouraged by the Government’s commitment to introduce an objective criteria for the allocation of agricultural funding each devolved nation receives. However, I am concerned that the Government has not set out concrete proposals on how it will achieve this. If the Government believes LFA is not a suitable method for distributing funding it must say what it wants to use instead and share these proposals with the farming sector as soon as possible.”

Domestic No-Deal tariffs

The Committee’s report outlined that one of the biggest concerns facing the farming sector in Scotland was a no-deal Brexit and the impact of the Government’s temporary tariffs, which sector experts warned would lead to many Scottish agricultural products being out-competed domestically by cheaper imports. The Committee recommended that the Government address these concerns during its consultation period on a permanent tariff regime.

Responding to the Report, the Government said it had sought a balance between the impact on consumers and producers when setting its temporary tariffs for agricultural products however it would consider exceptional” changes” to tariffs if evidence was provided. Since the Government’s response, the Government has announced changes to its temporary tariff regime to support businesses which supply HGVs, bioethanol and clothing. The Chair has therefore urged the Secretary of State to listen to the farming sector and reconsider the UK’s proposed agricultural tariffs as well.

Commenting on the Government’s No-Deal tariffs Pete Wishart MP said:

“During our inquiry we were alarmed by the overwhelmingly negative reaction Scotland’s farming sector had to the Government’s temporary no-deal tariffs, which appear to provide significantly less protection than the current regime and could lead to serious ramifications for businesses and consumers across the UK. If the Government is able to change its tariffs to support other industries such as transport & textiles it must take similar action for farmers & ensure that the UK market is not flooded with cheap low-quality imports.”

Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme

The Committee’s Report concluded that the Government’s Seasonal Workers Pilot, allocating 2500 seasonal workers to farms across the UK, was insufficient to meet the demands of the Scottish horticultural sector and recommended that the allocation be quadrupled to 10,000 workers for the 2020 season. While the Government response acknowledges the important contribution, seasonal workers make to the horticultural sector, it does not commit to increasing the pilot, arguing that the aim of the pilot is to “test” the effectiveness of the immigration system at alleviating seasonal labour shortages, not to remove them entirely.

In his letter to the Secretary of State, Committee Chair Pete Wishart MP has called on the Government to provide more information about how the Government will be assessing the success of the pilot and how this will be incorporated into any future decisions on establishing a permanent version of the scheme post-2020.

Commenting on the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Pilot, Pete Wishart MP said:

“While I am disappointed that the Committee has not acted on our recommendation to increase the Seasonal Workers Pilot next year to help resolve the workforce crisis on Scottish farms, I am pleased that the Government remains open to introducing a permanent scheme post-2020. To support this, I urge the Government to provide more detail on how it will assess the success of the pilot and what criteria it will be using to determine if a permanent scheme is needed.”

Further information

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