After the Auditor General for Wales found WG mishandled RDP funds, Ministers must prove they can properly channel money to farmers through their post-Brexit schemes, says Paul Davies, leader of the Welsh Conservatives.
Farmers across Wales will undoubtedly be watching developments across the border in relation to the UK Government’s Agriculture Bill.
While the Bill mainly applies to practices in England, a number of its provisions also apply to Wales.
Concerns have been raised regarding imported agricultural produce under post-Brexit trade deals, and whether that produce would have to adhere to the same animal welfare and environmental standards as farmers in Wales currently do.
Those concerns are entirely justified.
Farmers across the country want reassurance that imported produce meets the same standards as theirs, so I’m pleased to see the UK Government has now made it crystal clear it will not compromise on the UK’s high standards, and has committed to upholding our environmental, food safety and animal welfare standards outside of the EU, as stated in the 2019 UK Conservative manifesto.
Many of you will also be aware that the Welsh Government is developing its own agriculture legislation.
I recently took the opportunity to directly quiz the Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs on the progress of the Bill.
I understand a White Paper will be published towards the end of the year, which will set out the context for the future of Welsh farming and pave the way for a Welsh Agriculture Bill.
What that Bill will contain, and how it will affect Welsh farmers post-Brexit, still remains to be seen – but you can be sure my colleagues and I in the Senedd will do everything in our power to ensure famers across Wales are not held back by further red tape and bureaucracy.
Leaving the EU creates a once in a generation opportunity for all parts of the United Kingdom to design a domestic agricultural policy that will champion Welsh farmers and our produce.
The Welsh Government needs to grasp that opportunity with both hands and ensure farmers in Wales are in a position to thrive post-Brexit by improving transparency and fairness in the supply chain.
I appreciate many farmers are anxious about the Welsh Government’s plans for farming post-Brexit, and recent reports about the Welsh Government’s handling of contracts under the Rural Development Programme certainly won’t fill people with confidence.
A recent report published by the Auditor General for Wales found that £68m had been granted through direct applications, where individuals or organisations were asked to apply without any open competition.
With scant time before Wales leaves the European Union, it’s absolutely critical that funding is properly channelled to farmers, in a fair and open manner which delivers value for money for the taxpayer.
This ongoing incompetence in managing funds simply cannot continue.
The Welsh Government needs to redouble its efforts – and quickly – in order to give farmers confidence that Ministers at the Senedd are ready to grasp the opportunities that leaving the EU will bring for Wales.
Paul can be found tweeting at @PaulDaviesPembs