SNP is committed to reining inthe power of the supermarkets

Supermarket chiefs will be reminded of their responsibility to ensure primary producers receive a fair deal when they meet Scotland’s new cabinet secretary for rural affairs, Richard Lochhead, at the Royal Highland Show today (22 June).

Morrisons’ chairman, Ken Morrison, Marks and Spencer’s chief executive, Stuart Rose, and Sainsbury’s chief executive, Justin King, are among leading retailers Mr Lochhead will be meeting at a showground lunch hosted by show president, Ian Galloway, the chairman of meat processors, Scotbeef of Bridge of Allan.

Mr Lochhead will be taking the opportunity of the lunch to remind those present of the Scottish National Party’s manifesto commitment to curb the power of supermarkets.

“We are already receiving positive feedback from supermarkets and the show will be the first in what I hope will be a regular dialogue with them,” Mr Lochhead told Farmers Weekly in his first interview since his appointment last month.

“We want to develop a better working relationship between all the players in the food supply chain.”

This suggests a more “softly, softly” approach compared with the strident manifesto rhetoric calling for the appointment of an independent ombudsman to give teeth to the Supermarket Code of Practice.

“A priority for the SNP in government will be addressing the imbalance in power between the big supermarkets and our primary producers at the bottom of the supply chain,” the manifesto stated. “The SNP will not allow the big multi-national supermarkets to exploit suppliers.”

Mr Lochhead has hit the ground running since his appointment, announcing a £1.6bn rural development programme for Scotland, a lower-than-expected rate of modulation and a £10m new entrants’ scheme.

He has also presided over the launch of a new public-private sector partnership to grow Scotland’s food and drink industry from £7.5bn to £10bn over the next 10 years.

The Scotland Food and Drink (SFD) initiative was the “baby” of Mr Lochhead’s predecessor, Ross Finnie, who envisaged the development of a central promotional body to rival Ireland’s Bord Bia.

“By working together to grow, process and promote the very best of Scotland’s food and drink, we can build on our industry’s successes and continue to spread the message internationally that Scottish products are world-class,” Mr Lochhead said at the launch.

Turning to the new entrants’ scheme, more details are expected to be revealed today when Mr Lochhead pays a visit to the Young Farmers’ stand at the Highland Show.

An interest relief scheme, worth up to £25,000 for successful applicants, is designed to help 500 new entrants enter farming, but Mr Lochhead sees the scheme as only one element of a package which will include encouragement to landowners to offer starter units to young farmers, incentives for older farmers to retire with dignity (including help with re-housing) and business advice, as well as help to acquire land and capital.

Mr Lochhead has also become the first member of first minister Alex Salmond’s six-strong Cabinet to attend a meeting of EU ministers and the first to meet his counterpart in London.

“I received a nice letter of congratulations from David Miliband,” said Mr Lochhead, which contrasts with the political furore in Scotland over the two weeks it took Prime Minister Tony Blair to telephone Mr Salmond after his election victory.

“I expect relations with DEFRA to be cordial and constructive and, as part of the UK team, I will be working hard to have Scotland’s voice heard in European negotiations.”

Mr Salmond is keen to ensure that the devolved administrations in Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland work together to present a united front in negotiations with Westminster.

After eight years shadowing Ross Finnie and representing a rural constituency – Moray – in the Scottish Parliament, Mr Lochhead is relishing the opportunity of getting things done.

“On a personal level, it has been very humbling to be invited to take on the rural affairs portfolio in the first-ever SNP government,” he said. “I want to see food production rising up the political agenda to play its full part in enhancing the economic, environmental and social advantages to Scotland and strengthening the fabric of rural areas.”

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