18 April 2000
Haddock and Gill clash over MAFF

By FWi staff

FARMERS leaders Ben Gill and Richard Haddock have clashed over government plans aimed at streamlining the Ministry of Agriculture.

Mr Haddock, who is a senior NFU official, accused the NFU president of failing to consult his members about government plans to rationalise MAFF.

The allegation was made during a meeting in London of ministry employees who are opposing plans which would close a number of regional MAFF offices.

Proposals unveiled earlier this year would see nine MAFF offices and two Intervention Board offices relocated to three or five regional call centres.

The plans would reduce the number of employees from 3350 to 1750 and require farmers to apply for their annual subsidy cheque by using the Internet.

MAFF employees belonging to the Public and Commercial Services union held an emergency meeting to discuss the proposals on Tuesday (18 April).

Mr Haddock accused NFU leaders of having a vested interest in pushing for computerising subsidy claims because it would boost business for the union.

The NFU has made no secret that it would like to submit subsidy claims to MAFF on behalf of farmers, Mr Haddock told the meeting.

The union set up a business arm last year, called NFU Services, to develop the organisations service functions in a commercial environment.

But Mr Haddock told the meeting that working so closely with the Ministry of Agriculture would be a conflict of interest for the union.

Price Waterhouse Coopers, which examined the proposals on behalf of MAFF, had conducted only minimal consultation with farmers, he added.

Although the Ministry of Agriculture had consulted the NFU, the union had failed to canvass the feelings of its members about the plan, said Mr Haddock.

But Mr Gill told Farmers Weekly that Mr Haddocks allegations were “a complete nonsense”. There had been no formal MAFF consultation with the NFU.

However, the possible closure of MAFF offices had been widely discussed within the union, even by the Devon NFU Committee in Mr Haddocks home county.

“Views from around the country have been fed to NFU headquarters, and senior NFU representatives have had informal discussions with MAFF,” said Mr Gill.

He added: “The NFUs position is clear: we cannot argue against modernising MAFF and we recognise the need to increase efficiency and use new technology.”

Mr Gill said streamlining MAFF must not be at the expense of farmers, who need more access to the ministry as subsidy claims become more complicated

“Our discussions with MAFF will centre on how farmers can have continued local access to MAFF to meet there needs,” he said.

Mr Gill said that the NFU was involved in an exercise with Price Waterhouse Coopers about how modern technology might be used to submit subsidy claims.

Some farmers have already shown an interest in using submitted forms electronically, and the ministry is running a trial this year in East Anglia.

The NFU will examine how it might proceed with computerised forms. But Mr Gill said the union had done no detailed work on the subject so far.