NFU president Meurig Raymond has called for the requirement for the Government to scrap the requirement for the Cabinet Office to sign off AHDB’s promotional spending.
On Monday, Ministers finally approved a £1.6 million autumn AHDB promotional campaign for beef and lamb cuts, but the delay in reaching this point has caused frustration across the red meat supply chain.
The campaign, which will launch in October, will be part of a three-year strategy intended to drive awareness of innovative new cuts that will improve carcase balance. It will feature a combination of press, digital and television advertising, supported by social media.
But the delay in getting the funding signed off at Cabinet Office level appears to have put additional pressure on AHDB to secure the most appropriate advertising for the October launch.
Peter Hardwick, AHDB Beef & Lamb’s head of trade development, said: “Given the delay, we are currently working to ensure we secure the most cost-effective slots for the television element, so are not in a position to confirm any additional details at this time.”
According to AHDB chairman Peter Kendall one original proposal from AHDB Beef & Lamb, promotion of the lamb mini-roast, ran out of time for it to go ahead this autumn.
Mr Raymond said the delay in approving AHDB’s proposed red meat campaign had been ‘extremely frustrating when the red meat sector is going through very difficult period’.
“There was a marketing plan agreed with AHDB board but because the rules require this sort of promotional activity to go through Cabinet Office and they asked for further information, this has dragged on,” he said in Brussels on Monday.
“I find it absolutely ridiculous - we are not talking £10m or £100m, we are talking £1.6m.
“We have argued, as AHDB is solely funded by farmers, it should be exempt from Cabinet Office spending controls for advertising, marketing and communications.”
Speaking in Brussels on Monday, Defra Secretary Liz Truss defended the Cabinet Office’s role in the approval process and said she believed marketing and promotion was a ‘key role’ of AHDB.
“There has been a process within Government. There is a role for Government where levy money is charged to make it is value-for-money but the important thing here is we do support the principle of the industry marketing – that is a key role it has,” she said.
NFU livestock board chairman Charles Sercombe said the belated approval for the red meat campaign was ‘good news for livestock farmers at a time when many are continuing to struggle with low prices’.
“With high volumes of lambs still to be marketed this autumn it is critical that we maintain consumer demand for new season British lamb,” he said.
“However, we remain very disappointed that is has taken so long to sign this off. The delays and dithering by Government have been totally unacceptable and are bound to have a major impact on how the money is spent.”
He echoed, Mr Raymond’s sentiments on the Cabinet Office. “From an NFU perspective, it is a fundamental point of principle that farmers are able to decide how their levy is spent.
“We would now encourage AHDB and Government to fully explore exempting AHDB as an arms-length body from the Cabinet Office spending controls for advertising, marketing and communications.”
In a recent statement, the AHDB board acknowledged that the sign off process for the campaign ’has not been straightforward’ but insisted it was ‘fully committed’ to getting proposed marketing campaigns signed off.
The proposal had been resubmitted by AHDB, after the initial version failed to achieve sign off.
Stuart Roberts recently resigned as chairman of AHDB Beef & Lamb, citing his frustration at Ministerial interference with how AHDB money levy money is spent.
While he insisted his actions were not prompted by this single campaign, his resignation threw the spotlight on the delay in approving it as figures from across the red meat sector voiced their frustration.