Question marks over PO funding despite pledge

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Nina Pullman

BY NINA PULLMAN

@nina_pullman

Question marks over PO funding despite pledge

The government's promise to honour EU funding has nevertheless left the trade with more questions than answers

Question marks over PO funding despite pledge

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Fresh produce trade bodies are calling for more detail from the government after last week’s commitment to honour EU funding until 2020. 

Chancellor Philip Hammond has pledged that CAP funding under Pillar 1 will be maintained until 2020, as part of the transition to new domestic funding arrangements. This means that farmers can continue to count on payments under the Basic Payment Scheme, while agri-environment schemes agreed before the Autumn Statement will be guaranteed funding through to their conclusion – even if they continue beyond the UK’s departure from the EU.

But chair of the NFU Horticulture and Potatoes Board Ali Capper said she has “asked for clarification”. “While the NFU Hort and Potatoes board is delighted that the government has finally provided some sense of confidence by giving a commitment of funding to 2020, the devil is in the detail,” she said. “And there is very little detail thus far on two areas: in the short term, precisely what they mean by the Autumn Statement deadline, but more importantly there is no detail on PO funding."

While the pledge covers Pillar 1 funding, the fresh produce sector primarily benefits from Pillar 2 through the Producer Organisation (PO) schemes.

Capper continued: “We need more details ASAP. Some programmes will be submitted in the next few weeks for POs and they need to know funding is there. There is a lack of certainty over how long it will last.” 

Jack Ward, CEO of the British Growers’ Association, said: “PO funding comes through Pillar 2, which is not what is promised. The funding up until 2017 is guaranteed, but there are no guarantees for post-2018.”

Once Article 50 has been triggered, the UK will have two years to negotiate its withdrawal from the EU. If this process begins next year, the UK will not leave until 2019, meaning the government’s pledge only covers one year. 2020 is also the year that the CAP funding was originally set to end. 

Capper said: “While the commitment gives us some certainty, 2020 is not that far away. We are all planning five to 10 years in advance, so it’s not long enough.”

Ward said the PO budget, currently €40 million of the wider CAP fund, is money well spent and said there “is no reason why we can’t ask for more” from a British agriculture budget.  “Additional funds would be really useful. The justification is that it drives investment and jobs, and downstream activity,” he said. 

Capper said the majority of UK fresh produce businesses would be happy with the equivalent funding, but would like a simpler admin process.

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