ALL THE signs are that Defra is facing the largest cuts to its budget of any government department since 2009, with it having agreed to average annual cuts of eight per cent in their operating costs, a total of 30 per cent over the next four years.
Whilst funding for flood defences and disease prevention are likely to be protected, many other areas such as conservation, water pollution and rural issues are at risk. And the proposals will likely lead to more redundancies within an already depleted workforce.
The cuts come as farmers face a substantial squeeze. With price volatility, falling farm gate prices, uncertainty around the impending EU referendum and a food scare concerning health risks associated with processed meat, one can see why confidence in the industry is low.
For too long rural businesses have been overlooked and have had too little say in decisions which affect them, but the setting up in 2012 of the Rural and Farming Networks as a direct “hotline” into Defra was an opportunity to change.
The Yorkshire Food, Farming and Rural Network acts as a direct link between frontline rural communities, businesses and the farming sector to Defra with direct access to ministers and has already begun to address this issue of underrepresentation.
Whilst there’s been progress there’s still more to be done. In light of the twin challenges of an industry lacking in confidence and a government department facing huge cuts I feel that my recent appointment as the chairman of the Yorkshire Food, Farming and Rural Network, whilst challenging, could not have come at a better time. It will be a great privilege to lead such a strong network of individuals and organisations from rural communities, businesses and the food and farming industries, to identify and feedback local issues and concerns direct to government.
Yorkshire has a great reputation for helping itself. Look at the great initiatives happening to help our farming and rural businesses such as the Yorkshire Agricultural Society’s Future Farmers of Yorkshire and the Farmer Scientist Network, and The Yorkshire Post’s Clearly British campaign in support of the region’s dairy industry.
One of my first tasks however will be to lead the Network in a discussion with Defra in Harrogate on December 1 following the launch of its 25-year Food and Farming Plan which sets out how the UK can grow more, buy more and sell more British food.
Defra will be visiting the region to explain the new plan which they see as a partnership between government and industry, designed to make British food and farming more competitive, resilient and capable of facing the challenges of the next 25 years.
There will be opportunities to comment on areas within the plan such as how to strengthen the British brand, increase exports, break down barriers to trade, attract investment into the industry and increase procurement opportunities. Ambitious aims that will require industry and government to work together to make these aims a reality.
The Yorkshire Food, Farming and Rural Network is ideally placed to help make Defra’s ambition a reality. I therefore urge as many of you as possible to come along to the event and influence how this plan will be delivered.
For more details, contact the Network’s co-ordinator Holly Jones Hollyj@yas.co.uk