10 May 2001
‘Brown plans retirement scheme’

By FWi staff

FARM minister Nick Brown has indicated that he plans to introduce an early retirement scheme for farmers in the wake of the foot-and-mouth crisis.

He is keen to introduce such a scheme and has discussed the options with the EU Commission and other EU ministers, according to Tenant Farmers Association (TFA) leaders.

TFA chief executive George Dunn and chairman Reg Haydon learned this at a meeting requested by the minister that took place in London on Thursday (10 May).

The TFA has long been calling for an early retirement package which would see eligible farmers given grants for leaving the industry.

Mr Brown has always rejected the plan, fearing that the government would be giving handouts to a lot of farmers who were leaving the industry anyway.

But the devastation wreaked by foot-and-mouth on numerous farm businesses has forced him to him reconsider, according to Mr Dunn.

He said the minister refused to give a specific commitment, saying nothing could be confirmed until after the general election.

“But we are very, very encouraged with his comments. He showed more support for an early retirement scheme than ever before and he has been persuaded by our arguments,” he said.

Mr Brown is keen on the TFA proposal that any scheme would be means-tested, based on the value assets a farmers owns, Mr Dunn added.

This would prevent money going to farmers that do not need it.

If a package is introduced, it is likely to be a one-off scheme with a definite end date, ensuring that the government is not left with an open-ended financial commitment.

It would be open to all farmers, not just those hit by foot-and-mouth, he said.

The government has repeatedly promised to provide financial help for farmers hit by foot-and-mouth.

But even if Mr Brown is wants such an early retirement scheme, there is no guarantee it will happen.

It would need EU approval and, with a high uptake likely, permission from the UK Treasury is far from guaranteed.

For Mr Dunn, the case is a strong one, particularly for tenant farmers who have few assets and cannot afford to leave the industry because they owe too much money.

“Farmers who have lost their stock or have been struggling for many years should be allowed to leave the industry with dignity,” he said.

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