Industry consultation for views on AHDB calls for changes to levy board structure
The request for views from industry on the Agriculture and Horticultural Development Board has now been published by Government and calls for an overhaul of the current structures of the levy body and a reform of its governance so that it can operate in a more modern and effective way.
Whilst industry was generally in agreement that the levy should be continued levy payers want a greater say in how their money should be spent and they want to know that what they are getting is excellent value for money.
Following the Government response to the AHDB request for views exercise, Jane King, AHDB CEO, said: “I welcome this report during an extraordinary period of change.
“The AHDB team is heartened by the industry’s general endorsement for the continuation of the levy, once again proving we have a vital role to play in supporting farmers, growers and processors in a rapidly changing world. I believe the role of AHDB has never been more important.
“Under the guidance of our new chairman Nicholas Saphir, we will refocus our efforts in identifying the risks and opportunities that face British farming and growing. We will drive market development and support farmers in improving performance. We are committed to being responsive to the needs of our levy-payers by adding real value where it matters and helping make an impact on farm. We want to engage farmers, growers and the whole supply chain in designing and shaping our technical programmes going forward. We will be making recommendations for changes to our governance structure to ensure that we are leaner and fitter as we face the future.
“AHDB believes in uniting with others to build a world class British industry and we are determined to work smartly and efficiently in harnessing our strong, independent evidence base to achieve it. I look forward to working with AHDB colleagues and industry partners in bringing these goals to life at a time when change and volatility will produce risks but also provide real opportunities.”
“Concerned that the current AHDB structure requires every decision to go through multiple approvals from senior management, resulting in a lack of reasonable autonomy by AHDB staff over their activities in delivering the strategy.”
In its response to the consultation Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at DEFRA, Victoria Prentis said: “I and my counterparts in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland believe AHDB must take seriously the need to reduce bureaucracy, give greater accountability to levy payers and ensure a wider representation of levy payer views.
Recommendations and criticisms
“There is strong support for a ballot of levy payers every five years as to whether a levy in each sector should continue,” said Prentis. “A ballot of levy payers could potentially provide industry with greater ownership and a say in the future direction of AHDB. I have asked my officials and officials from the devolved administrations to scope out this proposal further. In principle, I envisage AHDB would consult levy payers in each sector and put before them a five year programme of activity, for both cross-cutting areas and sector-specific priorities. Levy payers would then be able to vote on whether that programme is the most appropriate to support their sector.”
Respondents most frequently made comments about the representation, accountability and transparency of the AHDB board, sector boards and committee.
Most respondents felt that the AHDB board is currently out of touch with levy payers and needs to be representative of levy payers. This includes comments that the board itself should have members who are levy payers themselves.
Another theme that emerged, though less frequently, concerned AHDB board management and structure.
Most respondents who commented were in agreement that the current AHDB board, sector board and committee structure is overly bureaucratic, They said AHDB had become overstaffed and described it as being slow in decision making and delivery.
“AHDB is too top heavy without proper representation, the majority of levy payers will not know who is on their sector board,” said the National Beef Association
The National Pig Association said it was: “Concerned that the current AHDB structure requires every decision to go through multiple approvals from senior management, resulting in a lack of reasonable autonomy by AHDB staff over their activities in delivering the strategy.
“The NPA also believes that AHDB should be proactive in engaging with members so they can influence future direction.
For lamb the National Sheep Association was not confident about the AHDB board and its various board/committee structures strategy for the sheep industry. It claimed AHDB appears to have arrived at many of its answers from within, rather than proactively listening to the views of others.
The NFU (including NFU Cymru and NFU Scotland) said that AHDB has become too large, was top heavy and needed to become less bureaucratic and more responsive in order to be able to serve levy payers well.
The Tenant Farmers Association (TFA) suggested that there is a need for a radical refocussing of AHDB work and that AHDB has had the luxury of a guaranteed income without having to justify its existence or its value to those who fund it.
The Country Land and Business Association (CLA) responded that there needs to be more focus on delivering value to the levy payer rather than delivering government objectives. Defra’s involvement is essential; however, it was vital that the board is run for industry needs not to deliver Government objectives.”
When it came to questioning whether AHDB should include other foods the most frequent suggestion was that the poultry sector should be supported by AHDB through a statutory levy mechanism.
The vast majority of respondents who held this view were from those commenting on the red meat sectors (beef, lamb and pork). “The poultry sector has similar demands for market access to the livestock sectors. Without a levy they are unable to benefit from a partnership working approach,” said the British Pig Association.
The National Sheep Association commented: “There could be merit in developing a central funding pot to support UK-wide trade and marketing efforts underpin all 4 UK devolved nation promotional activities. This would help to avoid duplication and unnecessary internal competition.”
The full report can be read here.