21 December 1999
Create countryside ministry now — CLA
By Donald MacPhail
THE departure of the most senior Ministry of Agriculture civil servant provides the ideal opportunity to create a new rural ministry, claims the leader of the Country Landowners Association.
It was announced yesterday (20 December) that Richard Packer, MAFF permanent secretary, will quit his job in February, after holding his position for seven years under agriculture six ministers
CLA leader Anthony Bosanquet said now was the time to create a department for the countryside, bringing together in one portfolio responsibility for agriculture, rural environment and rural development.
The departure of Mr Packer comes on the heels of the government decision to reduce farming subsidy money to boost funding for agri-environment schemes by £1 billion.
Mr Bosanquet said: “Forward-looking landowners have long advocated the creation of a department for the countryside and agriculture.
“The recent announcement on fund-switching from production to agri-environment policies makes such a move even more important – and it can now be facilitated.”
Mr Packers contribution to MAFF was warmly praised by farming minister Nick Brown, but the combative permanent secretary has been a controversial figure.
Detractors accuse him of contributing to a climate of secrecy in the ministry, and perpetuating a view that MAFFs role is to defend farmers rather than serve consumers.
The BSE inquiry highlighted MAFFs failures of communication with the department of health during the BSE crisis.
“The culture at MAFF under Mr Packer has been instinctively productionist instead of consumerist,” Tim Lang, professor of food policy, told the Financial Times.
“His departure probably heralds a change.”
The move fuels speculation that the current Labour government is pressing ahead with plans to replace MAFF with a Ministry of Rural Affairs.
The announcement comes at a time when Prime Minister Tony Blair openly considering a radical shake-up of MAFF to create a rural affairs ministry.
Last month, the government announced it was setting up a Cabinet committee to co-ordinate all government policies on rural affairs.