New unit takes on farm inspection blitz

Environment Secretary Elizabeth Truss has vowed to save taxpayers millions of pounds, and farmers countless hours of wasted time, by obliterating needless red tape that has frustrated the industry for years.

Environment Secretary Elizabeth Truss has announced that the Government's new Farm Visits Co-ordination Unit' is now up and running. Picture: Tony Johnson.

Thousands of farm visit inspections will be cut this year in the next phase of the government’s Single Farm Inspection Taskforce roll out, the Leeds-raised politician said.

Miss Truss said she was determined to help farmers to focus their time and energy on producing more British food.

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The work of a new ‘Farm Visits Co-ordination Unit’, that began operating within the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) yesterday, will mean 1,000 less inspection visits will need to be carried out in this financial year alone, the Secretary of State said.

Those benefits are expected to increase as the unit expands to consider farm visits by other government organisations - benefits that the National Farmers’ Union (NFU) said it was keen to see realised if the government was to make real inroads on reducing red tape in the agricultural sector.

As the new unit was declared operational, Miss Truss said: “Farming and food are the bedrock of our rural economy. I want to continue to support our farmers to grow more and sell more British produce.

“The Farm Visits Co-ordination Unit will drive down the number of visits made by government, allowing them to get on with growing more world-leading food.”

The Norfolk MP continued: “This is part of our ongoing commitment to liberate farmers from red tape, which will see us scrap another 20,000 inspections by the end of this parliament on top of the 34,000 visits and 80 per cent of guidance removed since 2010, saving businesses millions of pounds and countless hours.”

At the top of the new co-ordination unit’s agenda is an analysis of all planned farm visits by the Rural Payments Agency (RPA) and the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) to identify on which farms those inspections can be combined into one. These include the RPA’s Cattle Identification Inspections and APHA’s TB testing.

The new unit is a key milestone in the establishment of Defra’s Single Farm Inspection Taskforce which was first announced by Prime Minister David Cameron in July last year.

The government’s grand vision is to cut a further 20,000 farm inspections over the course of this Parliament. It plans to achieve this target by “streamlining” work across Defra and its agencies, and making better use of technology and data.

The NFU has long called for a reduction in the number of on-farm inspections to wipe out overlaps brought about by too many regulatory bodies conducting their own farm visits, and Adam Bedford, the union’s regional director for Yorkshire and the North East, said: “Frustration with this level of duplication is always at the top of the list of things raised by our members.

“The announcement today by Defra is certainly a step in the right direction however we are concerned that the Farm Visits Co-ordination Unit will not achieve its full potential until it works with all the relevant regulatory agencies that carry out inspections.”