19 January 1996

Government should pay up for potato industry wind-up

By Tony McDougal

CALLS for government to make a financial contribution to the estimated £5m cost of winding up the potato marketing scheme were made at NFU Council this week.

Jim Padfield, NFU potato committee chairman, said it was ridiculous that the Potato Marketing Board should have to pay for the abolition of the scheme when it was under direct orders from government.

His comments followed a lobby of MPs at Westminster on Tuesday before Wednesdays House of Commons motion to wind up the scheme. But the government has pledged it will run until June 1997.

Mr Padfield said it would be wrong if any levy money collected from growers was spent on meeting the costs of pensions or property liability during the wind-up of the scheme.

Ian Rogers, PMB financial director, said the PMB had approached the government for financial aid but had left empty-handed. "The government claimed we could meet the financial liabilities and were, therefore, not prepared to pay."

Mr Rogers said it was unlikely the successor body to the PMB would be prepared to take on any additional expenses, such as present pension schemes plus current staff numbers. But he stressed 1996 grower levies would not be used to wind up the scheme.

Mr Padfield told delegates that the UK potato industry must remain on a competitive footing with its European partners, many of whom were receiving national aids.

"We want to know what national aids are being paid in Europe. Although they are declared at present to the commission, it is done on a confidential basis."

Mr Padfield said the whole issue of accountability to levy-payers, including the setting-up of an industry development council, needed further examination.

The PMB has arranged a series of 17 meetings, beginning at Peterborough on Jan 25, to discuss with growers the future of marketing, information, statistics and research and development. &#42