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Abi Kay, Chief reporter: Defra's 'bureaucracy-busting' bandwagon is back in action

Barely a year goes by that a Defra Minister does not promise to cut red tape for farmers.


Abi   Kay

Abi   Kay

We have had a Farming Regulation Taskforce which made 200 ‘bureaucracy-busting’ recommendations, a Farming Regulation Implementation Group to monitor progress on fulfilling those recommendations, an action plan which set out yet more ways Ministers could cut down on paperwork for farmers and Andrea Leadsom’s unforgettable ‘bonfire of EU regulations’.

 

Now Mr Gove has jumped on the bandwagon too, announcing a ‘long overdue’ review of the farming inspection regime earlier this year.

 

So you could be forgiven for wondering why, after all this, increased levels of bureaucracy are contributing to growing mental health issues among farmers.

 

This mountain of paperwork farmers find covering their desks is not just adding to their day-to-day worries. It is also hindering progress towards policy aims.

 

Last week, Cheshire dairy farmer Phil Latham explained how he received 23 letters in one day after a TB breakdown.

 

He told me this unreasonable, excessive level of administration was putting others off taking part in the enhanced measures needed to get on top of the disease – a call to action for the Government if ever I heard one.

 

But how likely is it that Ministers will sort this out? I would suggest recent history shows not very.

 

It seems improbable that any new agri-environment scheme which replaces the BPS will require fewer controls or inspections.

 

Payments for public goods will by their nature be more complex to deliver than those based on farm size, and the Treasury will want to know they are fraud-proof.

 

In fact, the cynical among us might suggest Government has no real interest in reducing paperwork for farmers at all. It could not care less how difficult your life is made by officialdom.

 

What it does care about, though, is saving money, which is why the drive to cut red tape is so high on Ministers’ agenda.

 

In March, Defra’s top civil servant admitted the department would deliver £138 million worth of savings this year through streamlining IT systems and – you guessed it – cutting duplicated farm inspections.

 

Let’s hope the impact of this cost cutting filters down soon. We have certainly seen its results elsewhere.


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