Defra accused of dragging heels on No 10 food security pledges

Defra has strenuously denied accusations from agricultural leaders that a lack of progress has been made on government pledges made during the Number 10 Downing Street food security summit in May.

According to industry insiders, movement has been particularly slow on a commitment to improve future support for horticulture by replacing the EU Fruit and Vegetable Producer Organisation Scheme when it closes in 2026 with access to other funding.

See also: Number 10 food security aims undermined by EU import check delays

The current scheme helps fund investments in storage and processing facilities, developing new varieties, and hiring specialist staff.

Lack of advances

Jack Ward, chief executive of the British Growers Association, said staff changes at Defra had led to a loss of institutional knowledge on producer organisations and was holding back advances on future support.

“I’m starting to get slightly concerned because I don’t think we’re making quite the progress I’d envisaged in May,” he said.

“My concern is enhanced because we are getting towards a general election. Inevitably, when you’ve had governments in office for a long period of time, they run out of energy and things are getting further and further down the track.

“We need to get cracking with it because it is a big piece of work and has major implications for a very important part of the UK agricultural industry.”

Mr Ward also raised concerns that Defra had still not made clear how it planned to redeploy the savings made from the wind-down of the Basic Payment Scheme, pointing out investment to boost production in protected edibles would be “very expensive.”

‘Rehash of consultations’

Meanwhile, Lee Stiles from the Lea Valley Growers Association, which produces 75% of the UK’s cucumbers and peppers, slammed the summit pledge to co-locate glasshouses with heat sources, saying it was a “rehash of consultations from 15 years ago”.

“Planning policy does not place any obligations on industry to co-finance these arrangements and they therefore do not proceed when considered uneconomic,” he added.

A Defra spokesperson said the claims were “completely untrue” and that it was on track to deliver all the commitments made at the summit. 

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