26 March 1999

Go-it-alone Scots could break away from MLC

By Allan Wright

THE Meat and Livestock Commission could lose 13.5% of its £37m levy income as Scotland pushes for total control of all levies paid by its farmers.

Unless the Scottish NFU can broker an acceptable deal, there are strong indications that the new Scottish Parliament will legislate to establish an organisation charged with the marketing and promotion of all Scottish foods. Major funding would come from nationalising farmer levies.

The issue of MLCs role in a devolved Scotland has been simmering for months and surfaced again on Monday during a political forum in Edinburgh. "Where levies are raised in Scotland they should be spent promoting Scottish produce," said Lib-Dem spokesman George Lyon, immediate past president of the Scottish NFU. There was full support from SNP deputy leader John Swinney.

Mr Lyon said it had been difficult for him to be as positive on the issue when he was union leader. "But I can now say that, for many Scots, it is unacceptable that £5m goes south in MLC levies and only £1m comes back to help fund Scottish meat promotion.

"The new parliament will have the power to re-direct existing levies to a Scottish organisation. We must do more to market and promote our food. We are way behind the Irish in creating a national identity and we are behind the Welsh in unlocking development agency funding for food promotion."

Scottish NFU president Jim Walker said he was meeting MLC chairman Don Curry shortly to discuss the future of the commission in Scotland. "We are well aware that unless we can find an acceptable way forward there is every chance that the new parliament will legislate, and that may not deliver the best possible deal for our members," he said.

"The MLC is doing a lot of good work but there are areas of concern like the level of bureaucracy and our enthusiasm to get the date based beef export scheme working while there is general apathy in the south."

Alistair Donaldson, MLC manager for Scotland, said the level of work done on behalf of the Scottish meat industry was not generally recognised. "Generic advertising benefits Scottish producers, 40% of our research budget is spent in Scottish institutes, we have Scottish home economists, and two people working with Scottish butchers. The bottom line is that every £1 going out of Scotland comes back in one way or another."