Overwhelming response to Brexit and our Land consultation

AS readers of Y Tir will know, the FUW took a proactive approach to informing members about the the Welsh Government’s Brexit and our Land consultation, hosting meetings across Wales which were attended by thousands of members as well as others with an interest in the future of agriculture and rural Wales.

Having already been given a mandate from the membership in 2016 to lobby on a number of key principles which were directly contradicted in the consultation proposals, the FUW also provided members and others with the opportunity to express support for these by sending pre-printed postcards in response to the consultation.

While we await a full breakdown of the consultation responses, it’s safe to say that a significant proportion of the 12,000 plus received by Welsh Government will have come from FUW members, and we are grateful to all staff, members and others who have taken an interest in this matter and worked hard to highlight concerns regarding proposals which we believe would be disastrous for our industry and communities.

In addition to the thousands of responses sent to Welsh Government by individuals, many prominent organisations and bodies from

across Wales responded reflecting many of the FUW’s concerns.

The FUW has also worked closely with NFU Cymru to reflect the shared concerns and objectives of Welsh farming in relation to the Government’s proposals and possible changes to agricultural and rural policies.

On October 24, the FUW and NFU Cymru launched ‘A Welsh way forward’, – which sets out five principles aimed at placing Welsh food, farming, livelihoods, communities and our environment on a firm post-Brexit footing – at an event attended by Assembly Members from across the political spectrum.

Details of those principles can be seen on page 13, and both farming unions are committed to continuing to work together to secure a future policy which meets all of these objectives while minimising the risks of introducing untried and untested radical policy changes.

In addition to such work, the FUW’s twelve county and eleven standing committees met to consider the finer details of the Welsh Government’s proposals and the twenty questions posed in the consultation document, culminating in the union’s detailed 12,000 word response to the consultation.

Key areas of concerns identified in the union’s response – many of which had already been highlighted in lobbying since the EU referendum and on the FUW’s pre-printed postcard – included:

• The importance of farmers and food production to Wales’ economy, communities, culture, and landscapes is not given sufficient recognition in the Welsh Government proposals

• The radical changes proposed by the Welsh Government would add greatly to disruption for the agricultural industry and rural communities at a time when adverse economic impacts due to Brexit are highly likely

• Experience of the administration of existing and previous agri-environment and direct support schemes demonstrates that the work required to plan, create and administer the proposed Public Goods scheme would add significantly to the workload of Government, and do so at a time when essential and pressing work associated with Brexit is already causing significant strains

• Significant changes to the ways in which the agricultural industry and rural communities are funded should take place over a lengthy transition period, as has happened in Wales under previous Governments, with transition only starting after significant economic modelling and piloting

• The proposed policies would compromise a number of the Well-being of Future Generations Act Well-being goals, particularly in terms of prosperity, resilience, culture and language, equality, and cohesion.

The FUW response also highlighted that any major changes to rural policies should be informed by:

• Knowledge and considered analysis of the post Brexit economic landscape and trading environment

• Detailed and thorough analysis, modelling and piloting to investigate likely impacts of policies on individual farm businesses, sectors, regions and those involved in upstream and downstream agricultural supply chains

• The post-Brexit policies likely to affect our main competitors in devolved regions and the remaining European Union, and analysis of potential impacts of competitive advantages and market distortions as a result of differing policies

• A full understanding of the validity and possible impacts of the proposals in terms of compliance with the World Trade Organisation Agreement on Agriculture.

The response did recognise merit in some elements of the Welsh Government’s proposals, and that careful evolution of the Glastir and other Rural Development schemes currently in place in Wales could take place in order to introduce appropriate forms of Resilience and Public Goods schemes.

However, in the absence of radical improvements in market returns and reductions in price volatility, the union made it clear that a third Economic Stability Scheme providing financial security for farm businesses and those reliant on agricultural supply chains must be put in place if severe consequences are to be avoided – particularly while producers in other competing countries continue to receive direct support through the Basic Payment Scheme.

The union therefore proposed the creation of

a Policy Reform Group on which core stakeholders are represented – reflecting processes put in place by Ministers under previous Welsh Governments when designing new schemes.

Such a group would initially be responsible for the creation of a Policy Reform ‘Roadmap’, which sets out how current policies might be carefully evolved into schemes which better meet all of Wales’ Wellbeing Goals – which are established in law – while minimising risks of undesirable consequences.

It would also be responsible for setting key milestones; assessing policy developments in terms of Brexit, trade etc.; undertaking modelling to assess impacts and dangers of policy proposals (see figure below) and assessing the manageability of any changes in terms of Welsh Government resources.

It was proposed that detailed areas which should be investigated by such a group would include:

• Improvements to Active Farmer criteria in order to protect and generate jobs and prosperity within the industry and supply chains

• Payment capping at appropriate levels to maximise benefits for Wales and minimise abuses of the system

• Development of Cross Compliance to create more proportionate criteria which better meet environmental, animal health and welfare and economic objectives

• Ensuring a Public Goods scheme has options which are accessible to all farmers, and does not result in discrimination

• The consideration and, where appropriate, development of other policies and interventions, such as private storage aid; insurance, new entrant and retirement schemes.

The FUW’s consultation response covers a host of other issues, including tenancy issues, taxation, animal health and the Welsh language to name but a few, and a full copy of the response can be found on the FUW’s website or requested from your local FUW office.

Next steps

The closure of the Welsh Government’s Brexit and our Land consultation on October 30 marks just one step in a lengthy process which will involve further consultations – one is due to be published in the spring – as well as a host of parallel process.

Some of these are well underway, including the ongoing scrutiny of the Agricultural Bill which was introduced to the UK Parliament in September and is of direct relevance to any policies introduced by the Welsh Government.

The FUW has already presented written and oral evidence to Parliament and the Welsh

Assembly highlighting numerous concerns about the Agricultural Bill, and has supported 19 proposed amendments, including one which would legislate for the fairer distribution of red meat levies between devolved levy bodies.

We also continue to work closely with other bodies and organisations which have common objectives and concerns to our own regarding the development of Welsh policies, and in particular are committed to working in alliance with NFU Cymru to deliver policies that conform to the principles outlined in the ‘Welsh Wales Forward’ paper launched in October.

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