A new organisation incorporating all the agencies farmers in Scotland have to deal with is one of 72 recommendations made in an interim report on reducing red tape in Scottish agriculture.
The author, Brian Pack , was appointed two years ago by the Scottish government to investigate ways of reducing on-farm inspections and bureaucracy to help farmers free up time to focus on practical farming.
The 172-page report of the Doing Better Initiative suggests a new body with a single data base could considerably streamline the activities of the multiple agencies farmers have to deal with.
In a controversial proposal, it is envisaged the organisation could incorporate the government’s Rural Payments and Inspections Directorate, as well as Scottish Natural Heritage, Crofting Commission, Forestry Commission Scotland and the farm and land manager regulations of the Scottish Environment Protection Agency. Also included would be local authorities, the new food standards agency to be formed in Scotland and, where practical, the Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency.
“We recommend that the Scottish government commissions a feasibility study into creating a new body,” the report states. “It must be a customer facing organisation with the objective of helping the sustainable economic growth of the rural sector.”
The difficulty of ensuring a joined-up policy approach with so many different organisations involved is highlighted in the report, which says the position is compounded by the Data Protection Act, which prevents different organisations from sharing data.
“It is the role of the farmer or land manager to integrate the various facets of their business to achieve profitability and compliance with statutory and support requirements,” the report points out. “We find ourselves asking why then does it require a range of bodies with inspectors and their own databases – including different mapping systems – to implement regulation?”
The report adds: “We have concluded the ability to have a single database covering all the interests of the new combined body is critical to achieving better regulation of farm and land managers. We believe a single body will be able to share clients’ data without restriction.”
Mr Pack admits this ambitious proposal is for the long term, but stresses that the report includes plenty of recommendations that could be implemented in the short term to ease the burden of red tape on farmers.
He calls for a greater understanding of the EU’s audit process and the penalties for breaching rules that dictate the government’s approach to farm inspections.
A more transparent inspection process is proposed to enable farmers to understand why they have been selected for inspection and Mr Pack recommends farmers should receive a minimum of 48 hours’ notice of inspections.
Building a tolerance level into claims to determine land deemed eligible or ineligible for support is also suggested and the point is made that the complexity of CAP reforms will only add weight to the existing regulations.
More “user-friendly” guidance is called for, including the development of a dedicated farmer guidance website tailored to each farm business.
Mr Pack is keen to provoke debate and discussion over the next three months and gather further evidence before submitting the final report with firm recommendations to the Scottish government by next May.
“My interim reports sets out a wide range of actions which I believe would reduce red tape in farming and land management, making it easier for farmers to comply and build trust,” he says.
Rural affairs secretary Richard Lochhead said the report “shines a light” on the complexity of legislation in the rural sector and the need for increased transparency to make life easier for farmers.
NFU Scotland chief executive Scott Walker said many farm businesses spent a disproportionate amount of time worrying about compliance and regulations rather than getting on with the job of farming.
“The number of recommendations in the report highlights the scale of the problem, but the recommendations, if delivered, have the potential to make a real difference,” he said.
More on red tape