Defra consultation will find out what the industry really thinks about AHDB
Defra has launched a consultation to review the roles and output of the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB). This is an opportunity for meat industry participants to have their say on whether the levies they pay to AHDB are being put to good use and represent value for money. They will also be able to put forward any changes they would like to see to the current levy system and opt to have a vote on its existence every 5 years.
When AHDB was set up it replaced the existing five levy boards and, instead, brought together a number of separate sector companies including EBLEX (Beef and Lamb) and BPEX (Pigs). Each was responsible for their own sector’s strategy and each was in charge of how levy funds should be spent to deliver on that strategy. Savings were made by consolidating certain back office services into a common platform administered by AHDB and shared by each sector company.
By 2009 AHDB was talking about increasing co-operation and collaboration between the sectors, which was reflected in new cross-sector roles that were created beyond just the administrative services to include market intelligence and marketing. By 2015, AHDB had replaced the separate sector companies with operating divisions, further homogenising the sectors.
Fast forward to 2018 and we see a very different AHDB; one, as they say in their latest Strategic Plan with “a more joined-up, unified approach across the six sectors [that will] stimulate collaboration, spread best practice, share learning and ultimately, save money”. As part of that move, they have brought together all of their market development staff into one team.
There are concerns forming among levy payers in the meat industry, which BMPA will be exploring during this consultation period.
The major concerns are that the savings, supposedly made, by combining more functions than was originally envisioned by the industry, have just resulted in a’ re-arranging of the deck chairs’. In making these changes AHDB has undoubtedly lost its sectoral focus and as a result has lost touch with the industry it is serving. Worse, there is a perception among levy payers that it has embraced being an arms length government body at the expense of delivery to the people who fund the organisation. AHDB themselves would admit to an extra cost burden that goes with the added bureaucracy associated with complying with government requirements.
Meat industry players have commented recently that they suspect a bias has formed within AHDB in favour of the cropping sectors. Whether this is true or not, they have detected an increased tendency for AHDB to ‘pull their punches’ when it comes to promoting the meat industry and a general watering down of their representation of all sectors across the board. We’ve written previously about the issues we see surrounding meat marketing in the UK .
Strong and single minded
If we are to consider these issues constructively during this period of debate, it’s helpful to look further afield at how meat sectors in other countries are represented and promoted.
We’ve spoken before about how meat marketing is done by Meat and Livestock Australia and we also follow with interest the activities of their Kiwi counterparts, Beef & Lamb New Zealand.
Both of these levy boards maintain a single-minded focus on their meat sectors. Neither is constrained by any conflicting agendas beyond their sector and so can whole-heartedly promote their produce. Also, both organisations have managed to build in the minds of consumers a position of trust, confidence and (in the case of their domestic market) pride in their respective meat industries.
If we are to instill confidence, trust and pride in our home-grown meat produce we must strengthen and promote our high standards through schemes like Red Tractor. But we must also have a full-throated endorsement of British meat through effective marketing to shift public perception.
Over the coming weeks, the debate will continue over whether we have that now or whether more work needs to be done to get there. We’d like to hear the thoughts of meat industry businesses so we can put your case directly to Defra as part of this consultation. The opportunity to bring about change only comes now and again and this is the first time for 10 years the industry has had a chance to speak and there have been a lot of changes.