12 June 1998

Give farm aid to cities – report

By Johann Tasker

FARMERS subsidies should be slashed and the money redirected to cities, according to an influential think-tank report to be sent to Number 10 Downing Street.

"Half of the European Unions budget is spent on CAP yet just 6.5% of European citizens are farmers," says the report by London-based think-tank Demos. "Resources should be reallocated from country to city and programmes to celebrate cities encouraged."

The report is the result of a six-month study which found that just 4% of Europeans see farming as a priority.

"Although the vast majority of Europeans live in cities, most of the EUs budget is spent on the countryside," the report says. "In the future, Europe will need to rediscover its urban identity."

Mark Leonard, the reports author, told farmers weekly: "Obviously as a think-tank we hope the report is going to be as influential as possible. It will be sent to a number of European leaders including Tony Blair. It is not just about the CAP, but cities are being undermined and yet the vast majority of the population live in them."

Demos is partly funded by Northern Foods and Tesco. Northern Foods chairman, Christopher Haskins, is a Demos director, while Tesco chief executive, Terry Leahy, is an adviser.

"We contribute to a number of think-tanks from across the political spectrum," said a Tesco source. "It is about new ideas and being in tune with the Labour governments vision of the future. But Mr Leahy does not have any control over the editorial content of the Demos report."

Spending on CAP this year will be almost £30bn, equivalent to about 48% of the total EU budget. But, according to the NFU, spending on agriculture seems so high because other expensive policies, such as defence, health, and education, are funded by individual member states rather than by the EU.

Reform not abolition

"The CAP needs reform but it does not need abolishing," said Ian Gardiner, NFU policy director. "But the EU is not a fully fledged government, so comparing what is paid by Europe to whom is pointless without taking into account national government expenditure on other policies – you have to be very careful."

But the report is likely to be read at the highest level. Demos is described by The Economist as "the most influential think-tank in Britain", and three Demos employees work in government departments. The firm already has a number of successes under its belt and is widely credited with being the brains behind Tony Blairs "Cool Britannia" ideas.