8 May 2001
Aid package leaves industry cold

By Alistair Driver

FARMERS, rural businesses and the meat industry have questioned the value of two aid packages to help the countryside recover from foot-and-mouth.

Agriculture minister Nick Brown unveiled a 15.4 million in aid to help farmers restructure their businesses in the wake of the crisis on Tuesday (8 May).

His announcement came the day after environment minister Michael Meacher announced a 24m aid package for rural businesses.

But landowners and meat-industry representatives have voiced concern that some of the farm aid amounts to repackaged cash, rather than any new money.

The Country Land and Business Association (CLA) accused the government of sending out mixed messages after the two packages were announced.

It would not be clear to many businesses which package is for them, said a CLA spokeswoman who described the announcements as confusing.

“This underlines our calls for a single department for the countryside and agriculture,” the spokeswoman told FARMERS WEEKLY.

“The announcements are confusing and the government is sending out mixed messages at a time when people are crying out for help.”

It looked like the Ministry of Agriculture was in competition with the Department of the Environment, said the spokeswoman.

Instead, the government should present a unified approach, she added.

Mr Browns package includes free business advice for farmers affected by the crisis and money to help with marketing and efficiency.

The CLA spokeswoman said she hoped the advice would be independent and informed. But she questioned how much of the cash was new.

“It does not look like new money,” she said.

A Meat and Livestock Commission spokesman reiterated her concern. “It is not clear from the initial statement whether this is new money,” he said.

The initiative would provide valuable advice and help at a local level for farmers but do little to facilitate the full recovery of the livestock industry.

“It does not address the need for a national and export recovery programme.”

The Tenant Farmers Association said it was worrying that the government, which wants to restructure farming, was offering free business advice to farmers.

Association chief executive George Dunn said he members had told him that officials were visiting farms with the intention of telling farmers how to quit.

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