14 November 1997

Minister is out of touch with farming says county chair

By John Burns

MAFF officials appear to have isolated their minister Jack Cunningham from the industry he represents and provided him with incorrect information and impractical ideas, says Devon NFU chairman Ian Pettyfer.

Speaking at Barnstaple NFUs agm, he confessed to extreme frustration and anger that he had been unable to get a fair hearing from Dr Cunningham, who like his predecessor Douglas Hogg seemed ill-informed about how real farms operated.

Mr Pettyfer wrote to Dr Cunningham more than a month ago, pointing out that his ideas on rural employment were inaccurate and inviting him to visit the West Country to see the important role of its many small farms.

But, only this week, and after much chasing, has he a response from the ministers office saying that Dr Cunninghams diary was full.

"It is quite clear the minister never read the letter. We used to have the MAFF regional panels whose chairman had direct access to ministers. Dr Cunningham abolished those overnight. So now our only route is through his civil servants. That seems a very dangerous position for a minister to be in, especially if – as I believe – the calibre and farming knowledge of those civil servants is not what it used to be", said Mr Pettyfer.

But it would account for why this administration continues to make the same mistakes the previous one did, he said.

Speaking after the meeting, he told FW: "There appears to be an almost anti-farmer, certainly an anti-subsidies, culture in the MAFF civil service nowadays. But the fact is they are responsible for farmings income. And, whether they like it or not, the basis of our income comes through Brussels and it is their responsibility to interpret it sensibly to the industrys advantage."