Heath rejects levy repatriation

Food and farming minister David Heath MP has rejected Scotland’s calls for the repatriation of levies for livestock raised in devolved administrations and slaughtered in England.

In a letter to UK levy boards AHDB, QMS, HCC and LMC, Heath said that he was determined to find a “fair and practical solution” to the problems with the meat levy system, which Scottish ministers have labelled “outdated”.

However, he rejected repatriation on the basis that AHDB carries out functions beneficial to Scotland and Wales, including overseas marketing, export certification and research, worth around £7m a year.

“If Scotland and Wales were left to undertake these activities, it is likely that it would cost the Scottish and Welsh industry considerably more than the amounts advocated for repatriation,” he said.

Instead he proposed the establishment of a forum involving all the levy bodies to determine priorities for the UK, which he said would be “formalised by a Memorandum of Understanding”.

Secretary of state for Scotland Michael Moore said that the forum would offer the chance of “greater collaboration and transparency” on areas of mutual benefit. “With active participation by all levy bodies, this should result in better alignment of priorities, benefiting producers in Scotland, England and Wales,” he said.

Heath’s proposals were given a cautious welcome by Scotland’s livestock sector. QMS chairman Jim McClaren said that it was reassuring to see Heath recognising the need to resolve the issue of Scotland’s “lost levy”. However, he added that there were a number of assertions underpinning Heath’s proposals that would require “significant clarificiation and discussion” before any decision was made.

Scottish farming minister Richard Lochead was less diplomatic in his response to the proposals, stating that he would “need a lot of convincing this is not just a fudge”.

He claimed that the £7m mentioned by Heath was “not even linked to the amount of Scottish levy that flows south” and had never been mentioned during his discussions with previous Defra ministers.

“This has dragged on for far too long – since the Radcliffe review of levy bodies seven years ago. So, while I will reflect on this latest proposal from Defra, I cannot yet see any sign of one Scottish pound being returned to our farmers to promote their own produce,” he said.

Scotland has made repeated calls for the repatriation of livestock levies, and first minister for Scotland Alex Salmond wrote to David Cameron earlier this month, claiming that Scottish farmers were losing £1.4m a year under the current system.