AHDB director resigns over levy control

One of the AHDB sector chairmen has resigned from the body in a move that highlights fears that the government is seeking to control farmer and processor levy funds.

Stuart Roberts, the former ABP agriculture director appointed by Defra ministers as chairman of AHDB Beef and Lamb (formerly Eblex) in March this year, has resigned from both the sector body and the main AHDB board.

He says his decision was prompted by growing concern over the way Defra was ‘expressing a view’ over the expenditure of levy monies and delaying sign-off on certain projects, including it is understood a TV promotion campaign for beef and lamb due to run this autumn.  The resignation is not a criticism of the current AHDB restructuring process or its leadership.

”I believe agricultural levies belong to farmer and processor levy payers and it should be the industry, through the AHDB sector boards, that is responsible for determining how levies are used,” Mr Roberts says. But “at the present time I can foresee a realistic prospect of the levies, in the long term, being lost to the realms of a remote tax that the industry will have little or no influence over”.

Mr Robert’s stance has been supported by the National Sheep Association. The NSA says the resignation “throws the role of the AHDB Beef and Lamb board into question and suggests that the influence of the Government and the Treasury, at a time of Defra departmental cutbacks, appears to be of a predatory nature”. It also voices concern over “the serious risk of a complete review of the legality of levy money collection and the statutory instrument behind it”.

“We recognise that AHDB Beef and Lamb has long had a process of having to have such promotional activity signed off by Defra, but this year that sign-off process has stagnated at ministerial level,” notes NSA chief executive Phil Stocker. “NSA understands that previously the sign-off was simply a formality, as the responsibility of allocating levy money was rightly seen as the responsibility of the AHDB Beef and Lamb Board. To witness this level of ministerial intervention this year, at a time when the industry is in great need, is inexcusable.”

NFU livestock board chair Charles Sercombe adds: “The Secretary of State has said that she will do all she can to help the agricultural sector during a time of critically low prices. It is vital that measures like levy-funded trade development and the promotion of peak season lamb to the British public are available. For the NFU, it is a fundamental point of principle that levy payers should decide how their levy money is spent.”