More health check cash will help farms recover from crisis

23 March 2001

More health check cash will help farms recover from crisis

By Robert Harris

MORE money should be made available to provide free business health checks for farmers to help them recover from the foot-and-mouth crisis, says a business consultant.

The farm business advice service, introduced by MAFF last autumn to help improve producers competitiveness, is an ideal vehicle to help individual businesses move on after the crisis, says Tim Evans, rural business adviser for Business Links Wilts and Swindon area.

"Every business is different, and will need a different solution. There is potentially going to be great demand for the service," he says.

He already has 30-35 farmers on a waiting list in his area, keen to make use of the £1000-worth of advice available to individual farms over three days.

But the £6.5m earmarked for the current financial year, which runs out at the end of this month, has been underspent, he claims. This is largely due to delays in getting the scheme running.

MAFF has said there is no provision to roll the money over, but is thought to be changing its mind, says Mr Evans. "Given what has happened recently, we need to be winding this up, not down."

Another reason why funds have been underused is the regional approach to the schemes administration, says Teresa Dent, partner in charge of farm consultancy at Strutt and Parkers Salisbury office.

FBAS is being delivered by the Small Business Services network of Business Link offices.

"It is clear that different Business Link regions have had differing strategies for dealing with the delivery of the FBAS to farmers, with differing results."

Some regions have recruited established farm business consultants and have had many more applications, says Mrs Dent. "Others have relied primarily on recruiting their own consultants, which has taken much longer to set up."

A total of 1309 farmers had requested a visit in the south-west.

The north-west has the next largest number of farms, at 750. After that, numbers drop quite rapidly, and in the Eastern region just 95 farmers had requested the service by the end of December.

But Sue Scott, co-ordinator for Business Links south-east region, says that the regions with the biggest uptake were those that had access to European cash, like Objective 5b funds.

"Offices were already set up to deal with this. The rest of us had to start from scratch." Farmers are also more used to claiming funds, so are likely to have taken note of the FBAS scheme more quickly, she adds. &#42

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