Don’t leave food security and farming at mercy of Brexit and virus – The Yorkshire Post says

THERE is now unanimity at Westminster over the need for an independent inquiry into Covid-19 after Boris Johnson acceded to calls by Sir Ed Davey, the Lib Dem interim leader, this month.

Graeme Bandeira's 'Be Kind' cartoon at the outset of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Yet, while its timing is still open to debate as the pandemic unfolds and Europe begins to brace itself for a ‘second wave’ of cases, lessons can be learned in the interim.

Each Whitehall ministry, quango, NHS trust and local authority needs to be reviewing and refining its work now – and the best-led organisations will already be doing so without waiting to be pre-empted by an inquiry.

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An example is food security and today’s call by the Commons Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee for Defra to appoint a dedicated minister whose primary task is maintaining crucial supplies rather than becoming sidetracked by other policy pressures.

Panic buying gripped the country at the start of the Covid-19 lockdown.

Notwithstanding the farming and food industry’s collective effort to keep the shelves stocked when Britain was in the grip of ‘panic buying’, they now have a second challenge – Brexit – as Britain prepares to leave the European Union on December 31.

But it is clear, judging by the underlying tone of this Parliamentary report, that there’s insufficient confidence in Defra’s current leadership on issues ranging from the availability of sufficient labour to help farmers with the annual harvest to uncertainty governing trade future arrangements with the EU and no grasp of the consequences of well-intended initiatives like the voucher scheme for free school meals.

As such, there’s no reason – or excuse – for such select committee reports being ignored by Environment Secretary George Eustice or others. Operating on a cross-party basis, they command authority and should be used as the basis for more immediate policy improvements before a more reflective and wide-ranging inquiry can be held.

Editor’s note: first and foremost - and rarely have I written down these words with more sincerity - I hope this finds you well.

George Eustice is the Environment Secretary.

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James Mitchinson