Tories play down fears Defra may be abolished

The Conservatives have played down suggestions that Defra could be abolished if they form the next government.

Some industry leaders fear pressure on public spending could see Defra disbanded as an incoming government reins in the purse strings after the 7 May general election.

See also: Tories pledge to ‘champion food and farming’

One idea is that food and agricultural policy could be removed from Defra and made the responsibility of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.

Similarly, responsibility for the environment could be switched so it falls within the remit of the Department of Energy and Climate Change.

Rural affairs could be covered by the Department for Communities and Local Government.

Concern over Defra’s future was fuelled this week when agriculture was included within a Jobs for All section of the Conservative manifesto, rather than having its own section.

But Defra secretary Liz Truss, who is seeking re-election as Conservative MP for south-west Norfolk, played down the suggestion that her department’s days may be numbered.

“What is important about our manifesto is that we’ve put agriculture at the heart of the economy and jobs section,” she told Farmers Weekly.

See also: Quiz: Can you guess which political party made these farming pledges?

“We firmly believe that food and farming has huge potential. It is a very important part of our economy and worth £100bn and accounts for one in eight jobs.”

The manifesto laid out the “vital importance” of farming, explained Ms Truss. Agriculture appeared in both the economy section and the environment section, she said.

“There will always be a strong part of the UK government that looks after farming,” said Ms Truss.

She added: “The work Defra does is vital.”

The Tory manifesto pledges a long-term vision for the future of British farming, working with industry to develop a 25-year plan to “grow more, buy more and sell more British food”.

“We firmly believe that food and farming has huge potential. It is a very important part of our economy and worth £100bn and accounts for one in eight jobs.”
Liz Truss, Defra secretary

Ms Truss said: “We want to really put the focus on how we can help the industry become more productive and more resilient.”

It was wrong to see farming as a sunset industry, Ms Truss added. The Tories wanted to treble the number of apprentices in agriculture, she said.

The 25-year plan would be industry led and implemented as soon as possible. It would build on the long term economic plan laid out by Ms Truss at this year’s NFU conference.

The manifesto also promises to liberate farmers from red tape by coordinating all farm visits through a single farm inspection taskforce.

And it promises that all central government departments will purchase food to “British standards” – although it stops short of saying the food will be British.

But the document does pledge to promote British food abroad by setting up a Great British food unit to help trademark and promote local foods around the world.

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