Tuesday, 20 November 2007

Paying the Piper

Paying the piper should mean calling the tune - not reluctantly dancing to the government's limited repertoire - so often a danse macarbre.

This is what, in DEFRASpeak, the government would have us believe:
"Government works in partnership with stakeholders to help us arrive at policy decisions that reflect a robust, fair and cost-effective approach taking into account and balancing stakeholder perspectives..."
In a pig's ear.

DEFRA listens to farmers only if they happen to be one of the so-called "core" stakeholders. Do most farmers have any idea who these people are, let alone feel represented by them? As for other 'stakeholders', prepared to give up time to attend Defra meetings and offer views and advice, too often one hears complaints about meetings getting scheduled at oddly inconvenient times, papers arriving too late to be read beforehand, minutes not being taken, meetings not efficiently chaired, questions not answered, time wasted and outcomes disappointing.

DEFRA's management skills, in short, are non existent. Such incompetence and contempt.

And yet it could all be so different. The best blueprint I have seen on the subject of Industry Cost Sharing is the paper by Roger Breeze with its suggestion that 'Performance Benchmarks' should be established for both sides. If the government failed in any of its parts of the bargain, failed to meet its Performance Benchmarks, then payment could not be demanded. If farmers failed to keep to what had been jointly decided then there would be pre-agreed penalities.

There would be accountability.

The serious and possible suggestion is this:
With all Performance Benchmarks met, by government and industry, the goal is to snuff out an outbreak in two weeks after diagnosis by active commitment of all sections of the industry and related industries.
Such a levy would give cause for real optimism. All those involved in farm to fork food production would share responsibility for safety and disease control.

But what farmers fear is that it will not be like this at all. 2007 has been a relentlessly terrible year. Can anyone deny that trust is at an all time low; confidence in the Ministry long since lost in a fog of disillusionment? If a levy on farmers goes ahead without genuine power sharing it will be taxation without representation at an almost undreamed of level.

With a savage twist of the knife, the Ministry will be telling the very farmers it has bossed, bamboozled and bankrupted that they themselves must pay for all that threatens to put paid to their very existence.

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