21 March 1997

NFU set to approve MLC plan to increase beef levy ceilings

By Shelley Wright

NFU officials are set to agree to the Meat and Livestock Commissions plan to raise beef levy ceilings but increased levies are not expected to follow immediately.

The proposal was expected to be endorsed by union council when it met yesterday (Thur). NFU deputy president, Ben Gill, told FW that agreeing to raise the ceilings did not mean the union had sanctioned any rise in existing levys.

Don Curry, MLC chairman, welcomed the unions support. And he reassured farmers that the commission had no plans for any immediate increase in levy rates. No decisions would be taken until the summer, and would involve full industry consultation.

The NFU originally opposed the increased ceilings because it felt that MLC needed to undertake a complete review of its operations and make internal savings.

MLC has already closed most of its export offices around Europe, and it is working on two reports that will determine the commissions future. The first will evaluate every penny MLC spends, and the results achieved. The second will be an internal audit of the commissions use of office space at its Milton Keynes headquarters after the halving of staff numbers there in recent years.

"Agreeing to an increase in levy ceilings recognises they (MLC) are moving to address our concerns," Mr Gill said. Parliamentary approval is needed to raise levy ceilings, with any subsequent increase in levy rate only possible after industry approval. Whether the union eventually agrees to that still hangs in the balance.

"We will obviously look at the reports and then wait for the MLC to come to us with firm proposals for any levy increase. It all depends if we are satisfied that progress is being made," Mr Gill said. He accepted that if the MLC proved there was a need for specific promotion to ensure beef recovery then there could be a case for an increase. &#42