Wednesday, February 20, 2008

More smiling 'Down on the Farm'

The President of the National Farmer's Union in Wales, Dai Davies was at it again today - being pleased by a Government announcement. I'm told that Gareth Vaughan, President over at the Farmer's Union of Wales was a touch less pleased, but was talking about a step in the right direction. What's happened today is that the Assembly Government has announced that £8.7 million in to be distributed to hill farmers as compensation for last summer's outbreak of Foot and Mouth Disease. Lets look at what happened and you can judge for yourself whether this lightening of our farmer's disposition is justified.

Over recent years, the UK Government did not properly fund its research facility at Pirbright where active FMD virus was held - so the drainage infrastructure failed and the virus escaped. Outbreak on. In other words, the UK Government caused the outbreak - the blame for which our 'moral compass' Prime Minister tried to pin on an American company which shared the Pirbright site. This led to animal movement restrictions which led to a collapse in the market price, which lost the sheep industry, particularly upland farmers (who have to sell their lambs in the autumn) many, many millions.

Then, because our 'moral compass' Prime Minister wanted to call a General Election, he promised that the Treasury would pay compensation to cover at least part of the loss. But he changed his mind about the Election, (some say he dithered) and withdrew the offer of compensation - or, to be more accurate, said that Defra would have to find the money from within its existing budget. (This made a big difference to Wales, because Treasury money would have been for all UK farmers, while Defra money is just for English farmers. Its taken a while but today we learned what response the Assembly Government was making to this unfortunate situation - even more unfortunate because the Scottish Parliament, cushioned by a more generous financial settlemet, offered its farmers about £25 million (Not certain of this figure).

Its legitimate to argue about the size of the package, (which my pal Brynle has done today) but I agree with the farming unions that it is well directed - to the upland farmers. The losses to upland farmers, as calculated by the Assembly Government ( or so I'm told anyway) are about £20 million and the figure is doubled if its assessed by the industry itself. The total package announced today is worth £8.8 million, all but £100k going into the upland support scheme. I should declare an interest, because this means a bit of extra cash for yours truly!


Frank H Little said...

Would the Westminster government compensate English farmers completely from the English vote if the source of a nationwide notifiable disease were a Welsh or Scottish facility?

Glyn Davies said...

Frank - that is a good question, which I'm not sure I could answer without several discussions. If the Assembly Government acted in a way which resulted in huge losses for individuals, I would have thought a claim for compensation could be brought - much as the NFU is trying to bring an action against the UK Government. Whether it would succeed is another matter of course.