DEFRA is under fire for failing to deliver on a pledge to slash red tape faced by farmers.
Many farmers have seen little or no reduction in the amount of bureaucracy they face since the department made the promise a year ago, says a progress report.
The update was published on Wednesday (27 February) by the independent steering group set up to oversee implementation of the so-called MacDonald recommendations to cut red tape.
The Farming Regulation Task Force, chaired by Richard Macdonald, recommended over 200 ways of reducing unnecessary “red tape” and reducing regulatory burdens on farmers.
Publication of the progress report – on the first day of the NFU 2013 Conference – came a year after DEFRA used the same event in 2012 to say it would implement most of those recommendations.
The progress report acknowledges some progress has been made. But it warns that there is still along way to go – especially when it comes to reducing the burden of farm inspections.
“Farmers have yet to see many of the positive outcomes towards which we are all working, and a lot of frustration remains on the ground,” says the document.
Mr Macdonald, who is chairing the group monitoring the implementation of his recommendations, said he still believed the government was committed to reducing red tape.
But he added: “While some steps have been taken to do this, what we really want is for farmers to notice the difference on the ground and that hasn’t materialised in any significant manner yet.
“Both government and industry need to do more before this can happen; only then will we really be able to say that the vision of the Task Force has been realised.”
In response, DEFRA has published an action plan and timetable outlining how and when it plans to implement the recommendations.
Farm minister David Heath said: “We have taken steps towards freeing farmers from red tape by working to reduce paperwork and to improve the co-ordination of inspections.
He added: We’re taking practical steps to support businesses by rolling out superfast broadband to people in rural areas.
“I know there is more to do and I won’t rest until farmers genuinely notice the difference.”
NFU deputy president Meurig Raymond said the union echoed the sentiments expressed by the group in their assessment report in that farmers had yet to see many positive outcomes
Mr Raymond said he accepted that some recommendations would take time to be fully rolled out. But he warned: “On the whole we are concerned about the speed and lack of delivery.”
Agricultural businesses were looking for regulatory burdens to be lifted as soon as possible.
“With a year gone since Defra’s response to the Task Force recommendations and nearly two years since the Task Force initially reported its findings it is no surprise that a lot of frustration remains.
“We need to see recommendations being driven forward urgently and at a quicker pace across DEFRA, with the impact on the ground being the acid test for delivery.”
For more on this topic
News from the NFU conference 2013