Wednesday, 23 May 2018

Letter to Philip Hammond re: environmental watchdog

Rt Hon Philip Hammond MP
Chancellor of the Exchequer
HM Treasury,
1 Horse Guards Road,
London,
SW1A 2HQ

Dear Mr Hammond,

I’ve been concerned by reports in today’s newspapers that the Treasury has not been supportive of the Secretary of State for the Environment’s plans to create a strong environmental watchdog with the power to fine central and local government.  I support an instinct to reduce unnecessary administrative burden, however it must be recognised that standards and measures play an integral role in driving efficiency and delivering value for public investment, particularly when an industry is in reform.

Instead, I urge you to strongly support the extraordinary efforts that Michael Gove is making to transform agriculture into a profitable and resilient industry, working with nature, to enhance our landscape for the good of food production, biodiversity, farm animal welfare, and human enjoyment and well-being.  It is essential that Mr Gove’s strategy for land use reform is well funded, and it is critical that Britain’s new environmental watchdog has the power to hold government properly to account.

The United Kingdom’s departure from the European Union presents an opportunity to establish a new policy framework for agricultural land use and food production.  Mr Gove plans to empower farmers to deliver future-proof agricultural systems that will be replicated globally in decades to come: quality food, honestly priced, produced while enhancing our dividend to nature; ensuring a legacy worth inheriting for the next generations of Britain’s farmers.

However, sustainability must provide the foundation stone of this change – not only because we are the custodians of creation, but because good business demands that we take action to protect our primary assets.  Individually and together we have a duty to nurture our natural capital, so that our land performs well, and our productive relationship with nature becomes stronger.  Our capacity to grow good food forever should be enhanced with each generation that passes on every family farm.

To achieve this government must set a clear new direction for British agriculture, and critically, it must also allow farmers the freedom to succeed or fail as they take greater control of their own businesses.  To help facilitate this government must set high base-line standards, and it must also encourage farmers to organise at local and landscape level.  Flexibility will be essential if farmers are to think creatively to reform the infrastructure they rely on in the fields, at the farm gate, and throughout their supply chains – but enforcement is equally important.  Both government and food producers must be able to be held to account.

Government should also reflect on its role as citizens’ champion.  Taxpayer funds directed at agriculture should deliver excellent value, with genuine accountability a pre-condition for all farm payments.  Farmers do not want handouts, and subsidy as a means of income support must end because this distorts the market place, promotes sloth, and reduces ambition.  However, ongoing financial support for farming is critical and will be needed for at least a generation.  Market distortions, established over decades, will take many years to repair, and substantial public funding will be required to fully arrest and reverse the degradation of our natural capital.

With strong leadership and a clear sense of purpose I believe it is possible to grasp the opportunity provided by our departure from the European Union and reform agricultural land use and food production so that it becomes a diverse, thriving, sustainable industry, competing successfully to sell quality produce at home and abroad.

I urge you and the Treasury to work constructively with Mr Gove, and to strongly support his plan to deliver a robust and well-funded transition to sustainable land use and food production, with high, forward-facing and enforceable environmental and farm animal welfare standards.

Yours sincerely,

ffinlo Costain
Director, Farmwel
Old Wing, Drumhead, Cardross, Argyll, G82 5EZ

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