Liz Truss will continue in her role as Defra Secretary, Prime Minister David Cameron has announced as he puts together his first Conservative-only Cabinet, following his extraordinary election victory on Friday.
Mrs Truss, who replaced Owen Paterson in the role in July 2014, had been widely tipped for promotion after impressing during the election campaign and had been strong linked with both the education and health Cabinet jobs as speculation swirled over the weekend and into Monday.
But the South West Norfolk MP, who had previously served as Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Education and Childcare since September 2012, will now bring a measure of continuity to the Defra role. Immediate issues in her in-tray include ensuring the smooth delivery of the Basic Payment Scheme in England and the next stages of the badger cull policy in the two pilot areas and beyond.
Commenting on her re-appointment, Mrs Truss said she would be leading work to promote the UK’s food and farming sector, improve the environment and champion the countryside.
"It is a privilege to serve in this Government and I am delighted to be returning as Environment Secretary," she said.
"Growing the rural economy, delivering for our food and farming sector, helping our rural communities continue to thrive and ensuring the protection of our natural environment will be my priorities and I look forward to getting to work as soon as possible."
In an interview with Farmers Guardian prior to the election, Mrs Truss said the Conservatives saw the food and farming sectors as ’a major area for jobs and growth’ and at the heart of the Conservative’s economic plans.
The Conservatives’ manifesto promised a 25-year plan to ‘champion farmers and food producers’ and enable the industry to produce more British food, including the establishment of a Great British Food Unit to help trademark and promote local foods at home and abroad.
It also included a pledge to introduce a single Farm Inspection Task Force to help ‘liberate farmers from red tape by coordinating all visits’.
Mrs Truss said: “Rather than having to deal with Natural England, the RPA, APHA and local authorities, farmers will be dealing with a single agency that would them and make us more efficient as we will avoid duplication.
“There would still be a number of inspections on farms but, as far as possible, we would do those inspections together and there would only be one set of people to deal with."
Mrs Truss was clear on the Conservative position on bovine TB, pledging to roll the cull out to new areas as part of the Government’s long-term TB eradication strategy and insisting the pilots showed culling to be ‘effective, humane and safe’.
"This is a disease that threatens the long-term future of the beef and dairy industries. We have set a long-term strategy which involves cattle movement controls, vaccination and culling where disease is rife.
"I am committed as Defra Secretary to doing whatever it takes to get rid of this disease,” she said.
A huge issue for farmers under this new Conservative Government will be Europe, with Mr Cameron setting out his stall to re-negotiate the UK’s relationship with Europe ahead of an’in-out’ referendum before the end of 2017.
Mrs Truss insistied it was right to give the public a say on Europe but refused to comment on the implications for farmers of leaving the EU in terms of CAP support and access to the single market. “I don’t want to leave. We want to stay in a reformed Europe,” she said.
As part of the UK’s re-negotiation the UK would push for a reduction in red tape and a ‘more scientific approach’ to regulation on policy areas like GM and pesticides, with the UK having a greater say in these areas, she added.
Another immediate question for Defra will the level of funding it secures in order to implement its polices and respond to emergencies.
Mrs Truss acknowledged Defra faced further cuts in the new Parliament but insisted there was scope to make more efficiencies, for example though rationalising inspections, without affecting frontline services.
" I am making all my plans on the basis Defra will continue as is. I think it’s doable to make more savings from our budget,” she said.
George Eustice is also returning to Defra as a Minister of State.
Other post-election appointments and development relevant to farming include:
NFU President Meurig Raymond welcomed Mrs Truss' re-appointment, which he said brought some stability to the role.
He said she made some 'positive commitments' in the run up to the election, including the 25-year food strategy and the roll out of the badger cull as part of the TB strategy.
"She has also been very strong on political decisions being driven by sound science, such as pesticide approvals and GM. It is all very positive for the industry. She has worked very hard over the last few months.".
"Now we will be challenging the Government to deliver on its commitments in the months ahead.
“We are eager to work with the Government on their ambitious plan for Britain to grow more, buy more and sell more British food at home and abroad as the NFU and farmers share this ambition. We have already argued strongly that we need such a plan to reverse long-term declines in farming productivity and the nation’s self-sufficiency.
“Crucial issues in our sector calling for the Government’s immediate attention include problems and issues surrounding BPS. With just weeks to go until the June 15 deadline, it’s imperative that enough resource is put in place, as time is running out.
"We are urging the Government to make an announcement as soon as possible on further roll-out of badger culling to areas where TB in endemic and to implement the 25-year TB Eradication Strategy in full as quickly as possible.”
The full list of the NFU’s summarised manifesto asks for British farming is available here.
The CLA urged Ministers to recognise their collective role in unlocking the countryside’s potential.
CLA President Henry Robinson said: “The new Ministerial team must become champions of rural business if they are to deliver on their manifesto commitments. The CLA will continue to make the case that strong rural businesses are essential in creating jobs and vibrant communities, as well as protecting and enhancing the natural environment.
“We congratulate Liz Truss on her re-appointment as Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. I look forward to continuing to work with her to deliver her vision for a long term strategy, not only for food and farming but for growth across the rural economy.”
Mr Robinson also welcomed the appointment of Amber Rudd MP as Energy Secretary, Greg Clark MP as Communities and Local Government Secretary and Sajid Javid MP as Business Secretary.
“We look forward to working with the new Ministers and their departments. Every department needs to take account of the needs of the rural economy, and grasp this opportunity to help unlock the countryside’s economic, social and environmental potential.”