AHDB agrees to ‘key reforms’, including levy payer ballot

Levy payers are to be given a greater say on how their money is spent, after AHDB agreed to ‘key reforms’ recommended in a recent review of its activities.

The Government’s response to the Request for Views on AHDB, published earlier this year, contained a number of recommendations to give levy payers more influence and improve the levy body’s structures and communication.

In a comprehensive search for views, 69% of levy payers supported holding a ballot every five years over whether a levy in each sector should continue. There was also strong support for an overhaul of AHDB’s current structures and a reform of its governance so that it is operating in a more modern and effective way, as well improved communication with levy payers.

AHDB has now issued its response, confirming a it will implement a new strategy and improve communication with levy payers on how their money is spent.

It has committed to a regular ballot on the AHDB levy and how it is spent.  The timings and format of any ballot will need to be worked out in detail with Defra, and the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish Governments before being incorporated into the statutory legislation covering AHDB.

There will be a review of AHDB’s board and committee structure, which has been in place since the organisation was founded in 2008. An independent review of governance has already been put in place and will produce recommendations for change by the end of 2020.

There will also be a review of the levy calculations for potatoes and horticulture.

AHDB has announced five commitment to come out of the Request for Views exercise:

  • We will seek your views on a new strategy this Autumn and communicate regularly on how your levy has been spent and the benefits
  • We will hold a ballot on the levies and how they are spent
  • We will work with growers to design a modern levy system
  • We will focus on farm performance and market development at home and overseas, driven by independent evidence
  • We are currently reviewing our board and committee set-up, with recommendations due by the end of the year.

Key reforms

AHDB Chair Nicholas Saphir said: “We have listened carefully to the views expressed by levy payers in response to the Government-led Request for Views, and we are now committed to some key reforms to ensure we are fit for purpose in the changing times British agriculture is facing.

“As a new chair, I felt it was essential that we took time to consider fully the feedback from the exercise and its implications, and make clear commitments on how we will move forward, as well as ensuring this work is aligned to the new strategy that is being developed.”

Mr Saphir, who was appointed in April 2020, underlined the importance of AHDB’s new five-year strategy, which is being published for feedback this autumn. This will focus in two key areas of market development and farm performance.

“Our fantastic work during Covid 19 showed AHDB is at its very best in responding quickly to the needs of farmers, growers and the supply chain at a time of crisis, and we were able to clearly demonstrate the value we add for our levy payers.

“This built on the excellent progress we are making with key AHDB programmes, such as our network of hugely popular Monitor and Strategic farms, our work opening up new export markets, promotion of our products at home and overseas, our research work and our highly-regarded market insight, evidence and analysis,” he said.

“Our industry is about to undergo significant change driven by a new direction in trade and agriculture policies, as well as shifting consumer demands. Farming and supply chain businesses will need to compete with the best in the world, drawing on the latest insight to improve farm performance, grow market opportunities and meet environmental goals.

“That is what we will provide in our new strategy – and we will commit to telling our levy payers on a regular basis how we are spending their money and the benefits it brings,” he added.

Request for Views

More than 900 people responded to a call for views on AHDB, delivering a mixed verdict on its performance.

Overall, 43% of respondents had a positive view of AHDB, versus 36%, who had a negative view. But only 24% said the AHDB board’s served levy payers well, compared with 47% who said they didn’t.

While most respondents (64%) wanted the levy to stay, they want a greater say in how their money is spent, with strong support, 69%, for a ballot of levy payers every five years over whether a levy in each sector should continue.

Most respondents felt AHDB board is currently ‘out of touch with levy payers’ and many felt it needs to be ‘more transparent and accountable’, with calls for better communication with levy payers.

In its response, the NPA said members were concerned that the pork sector board had limited influence over AHDB. It criticised the structure ‘requiring every decision to go through multiple approvals from senior management’.

There was strong support (72% in each case) for marketing and promoting efficiency and productivity to continue as AHDB priorities, with good support, 59%, for a focus on developing markets and exports.

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About The Author

Editor of LBM titles Pig World and Farm Business and group editor of Agronomist and Arable Farmer. National Pig Association's webmaster. Previously political editor at Farmers Guardian for many years and also worked Farmers Weekly. Occasional farming media pundit. Brought up on a Leicestershire farm, now work from a shed in the garden in Oxfordshire. Big fan of Leicester City and Leicester Tigers. Occasional cricketer.