24 March 2000
Cash hopes grow for Blair summit

By Farmers Weekly reporters

HOPES are rising among farm leaders that Tony Blair will announce an aid package at the rural summit in Downing Street next Thursday (30 March).

The summit with the Prime Minister will include delegates from the countrys four biggest farming unions and selected industry bodies.

Jim Walker, president of the National Farmers Union of Scotland, said he was increasingly optimistic that Mr Blair was preparing to announce financial aid.

He said: “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.”

Financial help was unlikely to put every farming business back on an even keel, added Mr Walker, but would show that Mr Blair was committed to farmers.

Although the Prime Minister might compensate farmers for the strength of Sterling, additional cash from the UK Treasury also looks likely.

Mr Walker said he believed that the Mr Blair would let the Scottish Parliament decide how any additional funds made available should be spent.

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

Ben Gill, president of the National Farmers Union, refrained from making predictions and urged farmers to keep up the pressure on the government.

“Everyone should take the opportunity to explain to their political representatives why the industry needs this package and why it is a sound investment for both the government and taxpayers.”

Top of the NFUs agenda is clearer food labelling, less red tape, cash for BSE losses and 340 million in compensation for Sterlings strength.

“The government has already said it will pay 88m of that this year, and I will make sure it confirms that it will pay,” said Mr Gill.

The NFU will also press the 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.”

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,” Mr Gill added.