Hugh Broom: Farm policy is no better than pub talk

In recent months it would seem that there has been a rather unfortunate proliferation of chain-type restaurants opening in our local area.

Previously normal, and actually quite nice pubs, have been turned into pseudo-upmarket outlets. Following extensive refurbishment these premises are bedecked with all manner of fake mass-produced trinkets designed to give the place character.

Alas, in most cases it just clutters the place up and detracts from the building beneath, which in many cases is actually not too bad at all. I ask myself how stupid do the designers and brand managers think the public really is – we all know that the ornaments and furniture they include in such places are far from as old or as expensive as they appear to be. All they tend to become are drunken trophies for students or dust traps.

Once the make-over team has left, the freezers are then stocked with what are effectively ready meals and staff are recruited. Among these are humourless, dull managers with little or no loyalty to regular customers, let alone any common sense or leadership skills.

The outcome is poor food that takes ages to get to the table, in unnatural surroundings, delivered by staff who look at you oddly when you do not tip because they have just charged you the equivalent of the national debt of a small country for a rubbish meal.

Once all the locals have been to try it and have experienced the appalling food and service, the establishment closes and is revamped into yet another pathetically-themed outlet. So the tawdry cycle continues.

But there are a lot of parallels to be drawn between the mass-produced world of rubbish, fantasy-world eateries and the current legislative and policy mess that seems to be unfolding before the industry.

The Prime Minister and Chancellor set out the other week to tackle the problems of food and fuel price inflation, and had various summits to give the impression of combating the issues.

In reality all they have done is just drum up more expenses on the tea, coffee and meeting room account. Indeed, what, if anything, can they afford to change to influence raw material prices?

The answer is precisely nothing. Yes, they could drop the level of taxation on fuel, but when you are as skint as they are, you don’t let a penny out of your sight. And ultimately we will all pay for it in the end, as they would have to borrow billions to do it.

At the same time, the rural policy ministers are toying with the idea of what weird dichotomies they can set up next. While the world view is that food commodity supplies will become tighter as time goes on, ministers are toying with the idea of raising the set-aside level from 0%.

I understand that biodiversity is essential, but many conservationists have stated that it produces little or no ecological gain. At the same time, budgets for other environmental schemes are being cut.

In Europe, ministers are on course to ban a whole host of chemicals. I am open-minded about all kinds of production systems. However, it seems a daft time to be potentially cutting yields.

In the livestock sector there is still no decision on TB. Whatever decision this government makes, short of a near miracle, it is hardly likely to be elected again.

It feels like we are sitting in one of the aforementioned restaurants where the unappealing menu never changes and when you do order, due to the incompetence of the management, the food takes forever to arrive – if it arrives at all.

We need clear, coherent rural policy in this country, one that actually lays down the game plan for the coming decade – innovatively yet realistically written.

What we do not need is the ongoing mishmash of “window-dressing” policies that gold-plate European law and appeal only to the urban electorate. Like one of the pubs, it leaves us all with indigestion.

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