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Farming unions 'disappointed' by subsidy cut news

by Kevin Ashford

Farming unions say their members are getting a bad deal as the Welsh Government warned today that farmers must learn to manage with less help from the taxpayer.

Alun Davies, the minister responsible for agriculture, was spelling out why he's making bigger cuts in farm subsidies than anywhere else in the United Kingdom.

Mr Davies said he's transferring as much money as possible into projects to make farming more efficient, more environmentally friendly and better able to cope when subsidies are cut again in future.

Minister defends farm subsidy cuts

The Welsh Government minister responsible for agriculture has strongly defended his decision to cut direct subsidies for farmers by 15%, the maximum permitted under EU rules. Natural Resources and Food Minister Alun Davies told AMs that he's switching the money to funds that help rural businesses.

He said it would have been "irresponsible" not to act when the overall Common Agricultural Policy Budget is shrinking. He argued that rural Wales has to to prepare for further cuts and that means diverting available funds to prepare for the future. £286 million will be transferred by 2020.

I believe that the reduction of the CAP budget for 2014-20 agreed last spring, while regrettable, is the first step in real terms -and perhaps absolute- decline in direct payment support for farming. It is very important that Wales uses the coming period to 2019 to put its farming industry on the best possible footing to face further public funding reductions from 2020.

Income support ... is important for an industry that faces risks from a range of sources but ... cannot be a never-ending subsidy. I believe it also serves to stifle the modernisation and innovation that are crucial for the future competitiveness of our industry in Wales.

– Alun Davies, in a letter to the Assembly Environment Committee

How farm subsidies are calculated will also change, from historic payments, based on production subsidies, to money linked to the size of each farm and the quality of the land. But most alarm has been caused by the cut in direct payments, which is very high in Wales compared with other countries.

  • Wales 15%
  • England 12%
  • Scotland 9.5%
  • Northern Ireland 7%
  • Germany 5%
  • France 3%
  • Ireland 0%
  • Italy 0%

While there may be promising improvements – any constructive change is severely outweighed by the 15 per cent transfer. This reform leaves Wales at a competitive disadvantage in the market place.

It is a misguided move that hit farmers hard at a time when the industry in Wales is already struggling under Labour management. Far from minimising disruption to farming businesses – this change leaves them in limbo. While Carwyn Jones and Welsh Labour may claim they are making Welsh farming more competitive, in reality, they have hamstrung the industry.

– Shadow Minister for Rural Affairs Antoinette Sandbach AM

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Lib Dems slam 'partisan' and 'tribal' minister

The Welsh Liberal Democrat Environment spokesman, William Powell, has added his voice to criticism of the Natural Resources minister and department. It follows a series of strongly-worded criticisms and concerns set out in a letter from the cross-party Environment committee.

William Powell said:

The evidence provided by the Natural Resources and Food department was late, often contradictory and far from transparent. As a committee, we were unable to scrutinise properly due to the quality of the evidence.The Minister’s budget included a number of basic errors, such as referring to schemes and policy areas that have ceased to exist. While this is embarrassing and shows a lack of competence, far more worrying was the level of financial management evident in the department as a whole.

The Minister seemed unable to give sufficient information on a large range of issues, resorting instead to partisan hectoring and references to the Westminster government. Evidence that he did give was often contradictory to what his officials had to say. That just isn’t good enough.

Perhaps if the Minister spent more time treating his position with the professionalism and respect it deserves, rather than engaging in tribal politics, some of these serious concerns might not have arisen.

– William Powell AM, Liberal Democrat

£950,000 of funding to help keep Wales' towns tidy

Thousands of pounds' worth of funding has been announced in a bid to keep communities across Wales tidy.

The £943,833 sum will support 75 projects as part of the 'Tidy Towns' initiative, helping tackle issues including vandalism, littering, fly-tipping and dog fouling.

The money will also be used to transform wasteland across Wales into communal areas, such as nature reserves or community gardens.

It is really important that we all feel proud of where we live. However, problems such as fly tipping, dog fouling and littering can have a negative impact on the lives of residents and affect the way we feel about our local communities.

I am therefore delighted to approve funding for 75 projects across the country that will help tackle such problems head on and improve the local environments of people living in Welsh cities, towns and villages.

– Alun Davies, Minister for Natural Resources

Farm wages law approved by AMs

The Welsh Assembly has voted to regulate farm workers' wages after the UK Government last month ended controls for England and Wales. The legislation was rushed through the Senedd this week under emergency procedures that enabled it to be passed before AMs began their summer recess.

The decision to introduce this Bill with such urgency was not one we took lightly. However, swift and decisive action was necessary to ensure we are able to provide continuous support to our agricultural sector beyond 1 October 2013. By preserving the provisions of the 2012 Agricultural Wages Order in Wales we are providing continuity of a statutory regime that is well-known and respected by the sector; a regime that acknowledges the distinctiveness of Welsh agriculture, supports skill development and encourages new entrants into the industry.

This is a significant moment in the history of our Assembly as for the first time in the history of this body we have used emergency procedures to bring forward a Bill. Agriculture is a fundamental part of Wales’s economy, identity and rural heritage. I am very pleased that we have passed a Bill that will strengthen our agricultural industry and protect our rural communities

– Natural Resources Minister Alun Davies AM

The bill will not become law until the Queen has given Royal Assent. The Assembly Government must first wait to see if the UK Government decides to ask the Supreme Court if the legislation essentially an agricultural measure and so within the Assembly's competence.

If it was seen as employment legislation it could be struck down as being outside the powers granted to the Assembly by Westminster.

'Short term subsidies' not the answer, minister tells farmers

Natural Resources Minister Alun Davies has replied to farmers leaders who criticised him in an open letter. They said he was not offering the same financial help as in other parts of the UK to Welsh farmers hit by last month's snow.

He has told them that 'short term subsidies' are not the answer and that there are issues of fairness and affordability.

I will consider bringing forward a proportion of ... Farm Payments, particularly for those who have been hardest hit to date by the weather ... I am willing to keep other possible measures under review, while the evidence of the precise nature and extent of the problems you describe becomes clearer ... But you – as the industry’s leaders – must also understand that many other parts of the economy within Wales (and indeed other parts of agriculture) have suffered from the effects of the weather over the last 12 months, and more generally in the global downturn of recent years.

There is a real matter of fairness and affordability here. It is also hard to see how repeated demands for short-term subsidies support the process of change necessary for farming businesses to meet the increasing challenges of the global marketplace. We need solutions for Welsh agriculture that are sustainable - in every sense.

– Natural Resources Minister Alun Davies AM

Mr Davies said he fully appreciated the impact of the snow on both animal and human welfare, and had every sympathy with those who have suffered losses. He will meet the the main banks to discuss what help they can provide. He also wants a further meeting with the farmers' leaders themselves.

In short, I am standing shoulder to shoulder with the wider farming community in helping move Welsh agriculture through the current difficulties.

– Natural Resources Minister Alun Davies AM

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Return to the Rhondda but Leanne's lost one supporter

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Leanne Wood with Alun Davies in 1997 Credit: Barry Batchelor/PA

Leanne Wood has fought the Rhondda before, twice standing for Westminster. During her 1997 election campaign, she was pictured with Plaid Cymru's candidate in neighbouring Cynon Valley, Alun Davies. He's now Labour AM for Blaenau Gwent and has just become a cabinet minister.

Two new faces -and no sackings

by Nick Powell

Carwyn Jones has completed his cabinet reshuffle with the appointment of Alun Davies as Natural Resources and Food Minister. He steps up from the deputy rural affairs portfolio to take over from his old boss John Griffiths, with responsibility for the environment.

No-one has left the cabinet but two have joined it, meaning there will be fewer deputy ministers as the total size of the government is limited by law. The two new faces have come to the top table by very different routes.

Mark Drakeford was a defeated Labour candidate in 1999 and served Rhodri Morgan as a special adviser. Alun Davies is a former Plaid Cymru parliamentary candidate who changed parties to become a regional AM before successfully taking on the task of winning back Blaenau Gwent at the last election.

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