24 March 2000

Cash hopes for Blair summit

By FW reporters

THERE is growing optimism amongst farm industry leaders that Prime Minister Tony Blair will announce an aid package at the rural summit in Downing Street next Thursday (Mar 30).

Scottish NFU president Jim Walker told FARMERS WEEKLY: "We are certainly hopeful. The indications are that there will be some sort of package, although at this stage I have no idea how much money will be involved."

Mr Walker added that while financial help was unlikely to be on a scale to put every farming business back on an even keel, it would at least provide the indication that the industry had been seeking for so long – that the government was committed to ensuring the survival of farming communities.

Although agrimonetary compensation is one route the Prime Minister might take in providing aid, additional cash from the UK Treasury also looks likely.

"Id hope that we see the announcement of initiatives on both a UK and Scottish basis," said Mr Walker. Agrimonetary aid would be paid in the same way UK-wide. But decisions on how to spend any additional resources, certainly in the case of Scotland, will be handed to the Edinburgh Parliament, he believes.

"We need to discuss with our own government how best any aid should be allocated," he said.

NFU president Ben Gill refrained from making any predictions and instead urged farmers to keep the pressure on government right up to the summit by writing to their MPs.

"Everyone should take the opportunity to explain to their political representatives why the industry needs this [support] package and why it is a sound investment for both the government and taxpayers," Mr Gill told FW.

Topping the NFUs agenda at the summit will be a resolution to win compensation for agrimonetary imbalances, BSE losses, clear food labelling and help to untie red tape.

"UK farmers are entitled to £340m of agrimonetary compensation. Government has already said it will pay £88m of that this year and I will make sure it confirms that it will pay," pledged Mr Gill.

The NFU will also press government to pay a further £252m of agrimonetary compensation owed to farmers, he added.

A reduction in red tape is another NFU target. "We will try to knock on the head the heavy regulatory burden placed on all sectors of our industry.

"Although the pesticide tax may have been pushed off the agenda temporarily, we are now facing the new EU Waste Directive, Integrated Pollution and Prevention Controls, NVZs, plant health inspection charges, animal ID and food standards," said Mr Gill.

Such regulations must not be introduced earlier than in other EU countries and government must be careful with their interpretation, he said.

"Regulations must be proportional to the risks involved. Farmers should not be regarded as guilty until they can prove their innocence," he added.