Meat Industry Brexit Impact Report

British Meat Processors Association
British Meat Processors Association
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Are we having the right debate about AHDB?

After the recent debacle over the vote on the AHDB horticulture and the potato levy, and with now more votes to come in 2022 many questions were raised about how to judge a sector’s performance. But this misses an important point. 

The debate we need to have is whether the creation of AHDB and the merger of all the different levy boards into one organisation has been a success, and whether it has delivered better outcomes than when those sectors were left to create their own strategies and make their own decisions.

The original Radcliffe report that recommended the merger did so because it saw savings to be made on the costs of administration and premises. It also suggested that having all the organisations working under one roof would result in synergies. And it always acknowledged that money collected in a sector had to be spent for the benefit of that sector. 

Infighting between the main AHDB board and the sector boards has become the norm, the result has been that value for money and the interests of the levy payers has been at best overlooked and at worst completely forgotten.

Has this coming-together been misinterpreted by a succession of AHDB Chairman and Chief Executives, heavily influenced by government, who regard levy payers’ money and how it is spent as theirs to influence? Has it resulted in the creation of an ineffective and costly bureaucracy? These are the questions that need answering.

Infighting between the main AHDB board and the sector boards has become the norm, the result has been that value for money and the interests of the levy payers has been at best overlooked and at worst completely forgotten.

Will plans for a new look oversight AHDB board add value, or will it just further marginalise the sector boards? Everything will depend on the quality of the people selected and how that board interacts with the sector boards. On face value it is difficult to see how that will either reduce costs or improve value and do anything other than add to the current confusion that surrounds AHDB now. What seems more likely is that other AHDB sectors will face ballots and will have to answer for their decisions. These sectors are already fighting with one hand tied behind their back by the cost burden of a bloated AHDB bureaucracy and confusing decision-making processes. 

The new Chief Executive Tim Rycroft will have much to get to grips with when he takes up his post in August and he is arriving at a time when there will be enormous changes taking place in agriculture. The loss of the Horticulture and Potato sectors from the AHDB means will have to be an overall change of emphasis towards the livestock sectors as there will only be one crop sector left.

Instead of having a vote on sectors I think we need a debate about the concept of the AHDB experiment that, by most people’s reckoning, including mine, has failed. This is not turning the clock back. The sectors are working in one building, they are sharing administration and the opportunity is there to work together if they see value in it. 

We need to be sure that how the money is spent and what is strategically imperative for a sector is decided by people who understand how modern supply chains work and therefore what is needed for that sector.  Once we have hopefully recognised that we want the sectors to have more say and not be governed by an overarching bureaucracy, then we can have the debate about ballots. Also a  debate about how they are run, who has a vote and how that vote will reflect the contribution that is made. Most importantly then the levy sectors can be judged on their performance and value.

This article first appeared in Farmers Weekly

Nick Allen, CEO British Meat Processors Association

About Nick Allen

Nick is CEO of the British Meat Processors Association (BMPA) which is the leading trade association in the meat and meat product industry.

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