25 February 2000

Unauthorised hand-out and FSBman is axed

By Donald MacPhail

A LEADING critic of the Assured Combinable Crops Scheme has been relieved of his duties with the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) after sending out a controversial press release without authorisation.

Bob Robertson, FSB agricultural spokesman, argues the ACCS is anti-competitive and attempting to close markets to non-registered cereal growers. He was dismissed after releasing a press statement highly critical of Checkmate International, the company which runs the scheme.

Checkmate was incensed with the press release which drew attention to the alleged salaries of its directors and the plight of many farmers.

It could now bring a libel action against Mr Robertson. Stephen Alambritas, FSB head of press and parliamentary affairs, said Mr Robertsons actions had left the organisation no option but to remove him from his unpaid position.

"It was a flagrant breach of rules to issue a Press statement on our headed paper without going through the organisation."

The 150,000 member FSB is now seeking a new spokesman for its 3000 farming members, although it has not ruled out a return for Mr Robertson provided he abides by FSB rules.

Mr Robertson conceded he may have made a mistake by not having the press release checked. But he refused to climb down, saying: "I feel that I achieved my aim of putting the issue into the public domain, and I wont withdraw. If it comes to it, Ill probably defend myself in court."

Many farmers have voiced their support for Mr Robertson. Dick Lindley, vice-chairman of Wakefield NFU, said: "Bob has done a sterling job for small farmers. While the NFU [hierarchy] has pandered to big businesses, Bob has spoken out without fear or favour for members."

Mr Lindley now wants proposals for the creation of a register of agricultural merchants and co-operatives willing to buy from non-ACCS registered farmers to receive a fair hearing at a meeting from the NFU cereals committee in March.

The committee is dominated by ACCS-registered farmers but Mr Lindley says a register would enable farmers to purchase seed, fertilisers and animal foodstuffs only from organisations prepared to reciprocate by purchasing non-ACCS produced cereals. &#42