The chair designate of the new UK levy board has said that statutory levies may go down as a result of the government's overhaul of the levy board system.
Speaking to FWi last week, John Bridge said that replacing the five existing levy boards with one statutory levy board and six sector companies should bring efficiencies.
It was too early to say whether this could lead to dramatic changes in levy rates, he said, but his instinct was that there was no reason for levies to go up.
"In fact there is a pretty strong reason for them either to remain pretty stable, or you may be able, through efficiency gains, to see them go down," he said.
Dr Bridge, who is an economist with more than 40 years' experience in the public, private and academic sectors, said the current review process was an opportunity to deliver some significant changes for the better.
The argument that the creation of a new overarching levy board would simply add a layer of bureaucracy was simply "not true", he said.
The board would have responsibility for signing off the business plans of each of the sector companies, so it had to make sure the plans were deliverable, value for money and met farmers' needs.
He added. "There will also be only one reporting mechanism into government, which I think will be an improvement on the current system.
CONTRIBUTE TO THE REVIEW
John Bridge is keen that all levy payers register their views on what they want from the new horticultural and agricultural levy board.
A survey, which will be available until the end of November, can be found at:
- For levy producers
- For levy processors
"It will be more powerful as it is representative of six sectors and it will be able to deliver to ministers some powerful messages about the agricultural and horticultural sectors as a whole."
Dr Bridge said it was important that as many farmers as possible contributed their views to the current review. Consultants Accenture will carry out interviews with about 400 levy payers, but producers are also being asked to fill in an online questionnaire.
The survey - which takes about 15 minutes to complete - has been designed to draw out farmer's attitudes towards each of the existing levy bodies and the services they offer.
"I hope that as many levy payers as possible fill in the questionnaire," he said. "It asks questions such as 'What services do you use?' and 'Is your levy board easy to contact?' You can have the best information in the world, but if people can't get hold of it then it is of no use."
Dr Bridge said he was prepared to ask tough questions of the levy boards over the next few months as it was important to get things right. There were no limits to the review, so even issues such as the salaries of board bosses could be examined, he agreed.
He added: "I think the whole structure has got to be made efficient and user friendly, so people can see clear benefits and want to be part of it. That's my job."
LEVY BOARD REFORM PROCESS
- In April 2008 the five existing levy boards will be replaced by one general levy board and six sector companies.
- The individual sectors represented will be cereals and oilseeds, horticulture, milk, potatoes, English beef and lamb and English and Welsh pigs.
- The new statutory levy board - Levy Board UK - will actually be established in the next few months, but will operate on a shadow basis until 1 April 2008.
- Levy Board UK will be responsible for setting levy rates and for monitoring the activities of each of the sector companies.
- To aid the decision-making process a "Fresh Start review" is being carried out to identify the needs of levy payers and determine a set of value-for-money activities.