5 April 2002

Campaign for co-operatives

COUNTRYSIDE campaigners have written to trade secretary Patricia Hewitt demanding radical changes to UK laws governing co-operatives to make it easier for farmers to collaborate.

The Countryside Alliance have sent a letter calling for a fundamental overhaul of the legislation to make joining co-operatives more attractive to farmers.

Richard Burge, alliance chief executive, said rules on co-ops needed harmonising with the rest of the EU to put member states on a equal footing.

"We want to see major changes so members of co-operatives get more than the benefits of trading," he said. "We want changes that encourage bigger investment to make them far more competitive."

The issue of collaboration and co-operatives has risen back up the agenda. Plans for a dedicated body responsible for promoting collaboration among farmers in England will be discussed by farm leaders within the next two weeks.

Proposals for an English Collaborative Board were issued after talks in Downing Street on the policy commissions report into the future of farming and food on Mar 26.

The report, which was published in January, recommended a board should be established to promote and support collaborative activity. "We regard greater collaboration as a key ingredient of competitive food production in England," it said.

An NFU briefing document said the board would act as a "centre of excellence" to help improve farmers competitiveness in the marketplace. The board was unlikely to offer direct consultancy advice but should offer a sign-posting service to appropriate organisations and businesses, it said.

A steering committee will spend the next three months developing plans for the body. The committee will report in June and start implementing their proposals in July. &#42

BOARD AIMS

&#8226 To champion the principles of collaboration and joint venture activity.

&#8226 To promote best practice in all collaborative activities.

&#8226 To provide clear, accessible information for farmers and growers.

&#8226 To demonstrate the economic benefits to be gained from collaboration to producers.