Red tape ‘cuts’ having zero effect, says NFU

A Dorset livestock farmer has questioned whether DEFRA is delivering on its promises to cut red tape.

Andy Foot, chairman of the NFU South West Livestock Board, said he was “heartened” to hear from farm minister George Eustice that there would be “no let-up in the war on regulation and red tape”.

After he met the minister, who visited his farm in December, Mr Foot requested a list from DEFRA of all the regulations it said it has removed for livestock farmers since 2010. In return, DEFRA sent him a list that stretched to more than 180 pieces of legislation.

But on analysis, Mr Foot said he found it difficult to identify the removal of any rules that would have a real effect on red tape livestock farmers have to deal with day in and day out.

“In fact, after I had filtered out the regulations governing ice-cream van chimes, smoke control areas and fisheries legislation, I believe only 26 would have had any real effect on livestock farmers,” wrote Mr Foot, in a letter sent to Mr Eustice on 4 March.

“When looking into the matter further… 15 of these regulations have actually been replaced by other updated or consolidated legislation and 11 were time-linked and so were redundant anyway, such as the old hill farm allowance regulations.”

See also: Video: George Eustice Q&A on red tape

Mr Foot estimated that livestock farmers had seen a “grand total of zero reduction in regulation”. And, overall, most farmers across the country would tell you that red tape is actually increasing, he said.

He called on DEFRA to get away from “pointless bean counting of numbers of regulations, lines of regulations and reams of official guidance”. Instead, it must get involved in “looking at how these policies are being implemented and enforced on the ground”.

DEFRA is consulting with the NFU and others over its approach to cross-compliance in 2015. The NFU is urging its members to reply to a nine-day consultation on this subject .

Issues under discussion include proposed changes to restrict the hedge trimming window (GAEC 7A), the approach to soil protection (GAECs 4, 5 and 6) and in particular cover crops, water abstraction, public rights of way and Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).

In his letter, Mr Foot called on DEFRA to adopt a more tolerant approach to cross-compliance rules under the new CAP reform legislation.

He said too many farmers were receiving cross-compliance fines for minor mistakes in movement records, which were either related to technological failure or the actions of a third party.

He said: “Some cross-compliance inspectors are telling sheep farmers at the start of their visit that they are guaranteed a fine, as they have never visited a sheep farm yet that has not had a fine. This is unacceptable.”

A DEFRA spokesman said: “Through the Red Tape Challenge, DEFRA is reducing guidance by more than 80%, which is estimated to save businesses £100m a year.

“Our introduction of electronic reporting of livestock, a simpler cattle passport and risk-based selection for animal welfare inspections are just some of the ways we are cutting red tape for livestock farmers.”

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