Large-scale job cuts are on the cards at the AHDB, as the organisation sets about scaling back its horticulture and potato sector activities, as well as seeking further efficiencies elsewhere.
According to a statement, “any potential redundancies within the AHDB are required to be authorised by Defra ministers and a business case has been submitted to request approval for up to 140 full-time equivalent [jobs to go]”.
The current AHDB headcount stands at 473, and the statement makes clear the cuts are related to both changes in the horticulture and potato sectors, but also “a reorganisation of the AHDB in line with the efficiency commitments already made”.
The changes follow two grower polls, the results of which were published in February and March, which showed strong support for scrapping the statutory levy in horticulture and potatoes.
While a formal declaration is still awaited from ministers in England, Scotland and Wales about what the future will look like, the AHDB has now moved to wind down significant activities in these two areas.
In particular, it is to cease work related to export market access and promoting international trade, consumer marketing campaigns, and market pricing and insight information.
However, it will continue to deliver limited emergency work on pests and diseases, including the Extension of Authorisation for Minor Use (EAMU) and some contracted research work.
“This limited work will be continued in the interim, as it would be difficult to restart and would be detrimental to the industry to stop while a managed transition or a different funding mechanism is considered as part of any ministerial decision on the future,” said the statement.
“Already contracted research work in horticulture is planned to be funded through to completion and findings made available to growers.”
Levy return forms will still be issued by post and email over the coming fortnight, in line with the AHDB’s legal obligations, but invoices will not be issued until ministers have made a decision on levy rates.
“We are taking a responsible approach in winding down our work programmes for the horticulture and potato sectors,” said interim chief executive Ken Boyns.
“In addition, we have to recognise operational liabilities associated with contracts, people and assets. This means that some level of levy will be needed in 2021 to supplement sector reserves.
“Additionally, the AHDB is legally obliged to collect a levy until such time as parliament amends the legislation. At this point, we are asking for the data to be provided through the levy return process, but invoices will not be issued until we have ministerial decisions.”
Mr Boyns requested that growers show patience and understanding to those whose jobs are now on the line.
“We have a large number of knowledgeable and conscientious staff whose future is now uncertain, given that we will be making substantial reductions in our head count over the coming months.
“We would ask growers to respect the contribution they have made to horticulture and potatoes, and the personal empathy required as we implement these changes.”
Prior to the ballots, the AHDB had already committed to an extensive change programme, and has promised regular votes for all its levy-paying sectors starting in 2022, as well as an overhaul of governance.