12 July 2002

£500m rescue figure too low?

By Donald MacPhail

THE cost of plans to revitalise farming may top £1.1bn – more than twice the amount estimated by the commission into the future of British farming.

Media reports claim that DEFRA secretary Margaret Beckett has been trying to persuade Chancellor Gordon Brown to stump up £1.2bn in Julys spending review,

The figure dwarfs the £500m the governments policy commission on the future of food and farming, headed by Sir Donald Curry, said was needed to revive agriculture.

DEFRA refuses to confirm or deny the figure, which is said to come from a document leaked to the Daily Telegraph.

But Sir Donald told FARMERS WEEKLY that he believed the DEFRA figure represented a more detailed costing of his recommendations together with the costs of proposals from two other inquiries launched in the wake of foot-and-mouth which have yet to report back.

"We costed the implementation of our proposals at £500m; there wasnt time to go into the detail so we took a stab at a reasonable figure," explained Sir Donald. "Defra probably had more time to cost it."

The findings of the "lessons learned" inquiry chaired by Iain Anderson and a study into animal diseases headed by Sir Brian Follett are due to be published later this month.

Sir Donald admitted that he was slightly concerned if a larger figure was being submitted, but hoped that the Treasury would look at it favourably.

"I hope that a larger figure doesnt affect a chance to get funding, as it would be folly if the government does not fund the changes that are needed."

No comment

A DEFRA spokesman "We dont comment on Press speculation," "We are in intensive negotiations with the Treasury, and will have to wait and see what emerges."

The spokesman said he "didnt recognise" the £1.145bn figure being bandied about.

The Telegraph claims the costing estimates are in a note prepared some weeks ago, and represent what DEFRA believes it deserves.

The breakdown includes £65m for a cattle tracing system, £130m for livestock identification and £30m to protect against illegal imports. &#42

A compulsory insurance scheme – mooted by ministers in the wake of foot-and-mouth – is also included, at a cost of £135m.

It speculates that Mrs Beckett may have scaled back her bid since the costing was drafted to avoid it being rejected out of hand.