30 March 2000
Aid for pig and dairy farmers?

PIG and dairy farmers are expected to benefit from an aid package to be announced at the Downing Street summit on Thursday (30 March), it is reported.

The Treasury, Downing Street and the Ministry of Agriculture thrashed out a deal late on Tuesday night, claims the Financial Times.

Farm minister Nick Brown was reported to have pressed for up to 20 million over one year in agrimonetary aid for dairy farmers.

This is money available from the EU to compensate for the strength of Sterling over the Euro. Under the Fontainebleau Agreement, the Treasury would pick up part of the bill for aagrimoney compensation.

Mr Brown is also said to be battling for grants for pig farmers totalling 20-25m in one year.

Money will be accompanied by a promise to relax planning restrictions to enable farmers to make money by converting old barns into bed and breakfast accommodation, claims the FT.

The newspaper quotes a source close to the talks who said Chancellor Gordon Brown was being “very tough”.

However, according to a straw poll, grassroots farmers believe any offer of short-term aid at the Downing Street summit will benefit Tony Blair more than them.

Farmers unions have been pressing for the Prime Minister to claim 200m in agrimonetary aid.

But most rank-and-file farmers who were contacted by the Radio 4 Farming Today programme claim this would be a “poisoned chalice”.

They say it will win farmer-friendly headlines for the government, which will be seen to be helping out the industry.

And farmers fear the public will look on short-term aid as a handout to prop up a failing industry.

Respondents were sceptical about what could be achieved in a short meeting at Number 10, and questioned whether the whole summit was a publicity stunt for Mr Blair.

This summit will be the first time people from supermarkets will meet with farmers leaders and the Prime Minister.