Opinion: We’re having the wrong debate about the AHDB

After the recent debacle over the vote on the AHDB horticulture and potato levies, and with more votes to come in 2022, many questions were raised about how to judge a sector’s performance. But this misses an important point.

The debate we need to have is whether the creation of the AHDB and the merger of all the different levy boards into one organisation has been a success.

Has it delivered better outcomes than when those sectors were left to create their own strategies and make their own decisions?

See also: The chips are down for AHDB Potatoes

About the author

nick allenNick Allen
Chief executive, British Meat Processors Association

Nick Allen discusses why he believes there needs to be structural change at the AHDB, once the horticulture and potato boards have departed.

The original Radcliffe report that recommended the merger did so because it saw potential savings on the costs of administration and premises.

It also suggested that having all the organisations working under one roof would result in synergies.

But it always acknowledged that money collected in one sector had to be spent for the benefit of that sector.

Has this coming-together been misinterpreted by a succession of AHDB chairmen and chief executives, heavily influenced by government, who regard levy payers’ money and how it is spent as theirs to influence?

Has it resulted in the creation of an ineffective and costly bureaucracy? These are the questions that need answering.

Infighting between the main AHDB board and the sector boards has become the norm. The result has been that value for money and the interests of levy payers has been at best overlooked and at worst completely forgotten.

Will plans for a new-look AHDB oversight board add value, or will it just further marginalise the sector boards? Everything will depend on the quality of the people selected and how that board interacts with the sector boards.

On face value, it is difficult to see how that will either reduce costs or improve value, or do anything other than add to the current confusion that surrounds the AHDB.

What seems more likely is that other AHDB sectors will face ballots and will have to answer for their decisions.

These sectors are already fighting with one hand tied behind their back by the cost burden of a bloated AHDB bureaucracy and confusing decision-making processes.

The new chief executive, Tim Rycroft, will have much to get to grips with when he takes up his post in August. He is arriving at a time when there will be enormous changes taking place in agriculture.

The loss of the horticulture and potato sectors from the AHDB means there will be an overall change of emphasis towards the livestock sectors.

Instead of having a vote on sectors, I think we need a debate about the concept of the AHDB experiment that, by most people’s reckoning, has failed.

This is not turning the clock back. The sectors are still in one building, with the opportunity to work together if they see value in it.

But we need to be sure that how the money is spent and what is strategically imperative for a sector is decided by people who understand how modern supply chains work and, therefore, what is needed for that sector.

Once we have recognised that the sectors need to have more say and not be governed by an overarching bureaucracy, we can have the debate about ballots.

We also need a debate about how they are run, who has a vote and how that vote will reflect the contribution that is made. Then the levy sectors can be judged on their performance and value.

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