Oxford Farming Conference

DEFRA must do more than planned ‘reshape’

By Laurence Gibbons contact

- Last updated on GMT

NFU president Raymond has called for more from DEFRA
NFU president Raymond has called for more from DEFRA
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) must work more effectively with other government departments, warns the National Farmers Union (NFU), after environment secretary Liz Truss pledged to “reshape” the department in a speech delivered to the Oxford Farming Conference yesterday.

Truss has pledged to increase capital funding by 12% this parliament in order to upgrade the response to animal and plant diseases, improve flood defences and modernise DEFRA. 

NFU president Meurig Raymond welcomed Truss’s commitment to reduce flood risks, but said more attention must be given to other policies too.

“Integration and joined up approaches with its agencies is a necessity, particularly given the savings DEFRA has to make,”​ he said.

‘Biggest cost’

“Despite her enthusiasm for UK agriculture, I am surprised that Liz Truss did not cover the impacts of the introduction of a national living wage. Employment is the single biggest cost for many horticultural businesses and this policy would make UK produce simply uncompetitive.”  

Raymond called for funding for flood maintenance activities that surpassed the current media frenzy as a result of the devastation in northern England and Wales.

As part of the 12% funding boost to £2.7bn, DEFRA committed to better protecting over a million acres of prime farmland through its investment in flood defences by 2021.

DEFRA’s plan for restructure

  • Becomes more efficient
  • Give greater control to farmers and local communities
  • Invest in improving resilience, including in animal and plant disease response
  • Invest in flood defences
  • Create new Great British Food Unit to drive up exports

It will also lift rules preventing farmers from removing debris – such as silt – from their own ditches without permission.

Invest and grow exports

DEFRA would also make 15% efficiency savings, allowing it to invest in technology and digital systems, grow exports, invest in world-leading science, improve protection against animal and plant diseases and flood defences, Truss told the Oxford Farming Conference.

“In the past, the department and its agencies have been accused of operating in silos – looking just at flood protection, just farming or just the environment. This is going to change,”​ she said.

“And we have been criticised for taking too much decision-making out of local hands. While it is right that we manage major national risks, it does not mean we should seek to micro-manage everything.”

DEFRA’s agencies – the Environment Agency, the Animal and Plant Health Agency, Rural Payments Agency and Natural England will move to one back office to save money on administration costs, spend more on the frontline operation and work towards one clear goal, Truss added.

 

 

 

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