Examination of Witnesses (Questions 560
WEDNESDAY 2 MAY 2001
560. Do not use "modernise".
(Mr Barr) I was not going to use "modernise".
I mean, change is the norm now, and we probably all have to live
with it. I did use the expression when you were out that I think
we have got to help the farmer to live in a market economy. I
was saying there is a global economy and best practice there,
and we will see globalisation and localisation. Localisation means
that the small man might do superbly well if we can help him be
the best in that local area and give him help and make things
as simple as we possibly can to do that. Restructuring could easily
be . . . I am sorry to refer back to this, but it is on credentials:
I had always felt, coming from a very, very small company, 20-odd
people, that I could get plenty of marketing help/financial help
but very little practical help. One of the things I set up within
IGD was large companies sponsoring smaller companiesand
it has been actually incredibly successful and it has gone onwhere
they gave practical help to advance them. I think we have to say
with the smaller companies: "How can we help them?"
There is an interface with Food From Britain and so on in the
marketing end, and we do not want to create things, but I do think
there is an education and a help and teaching them to live within
a market economy, be that market a local economy or at the top
end a global economy.
(Mr Bansback) Could I just add to what the Chairman
has said there. I think you are very familiar in North Wales with
the situation in the chain of the livestock sector. I think this
is particularly an area of concern, where the signals from consumers
through to producers, by having a long and very complex supply
chain, are distorted. If we are going toas all of us wanthelp
the industry move forward, this is a key objective of what we
are planning here.
561. It sounds to me as if you are discussing
a concept of relocalising food supply in some instances. Is that
(Mr Barr) What I am saying is that one must define
what the consumer wants because, at the end of the day, forget
the consumer at your peril. So we have to say, "What does
the consumer want?" As we go through that process, if we
find that the consumer wants a local product we have to be best
in class at that localisation and we actually have to help people
to understand that market. So you might even take something like
category management in its simplest forms to help the smaller
man do his job better. But in all of that I am conscious that
we need less red tape. Again from my experience, another growing
sector spent a lot of money on a very impressive category management
exercise and then did not understand a thing about it. We have
got to come up with a fairly simple format that meets the needs
and helps them to move on.
562. Thank you. Finally, can you give me an
estimate of how long you think that restructuring would take to
achieve more or less what you describe on page 4 of your memorandum?
(Mr Barr) Having read Harry Potter: That exercise
that shall not be named (restructuring). I think that to make
serious moves would take five years.
563. Many of us receive letters objecting to
the Government's proposals for a 20-day standstill rule particularly
aimed at the sheep sector in the light of foot and mouth. A lot
of farmers seem to object to it. Does the MLC have a view about
(Mr Barr) I think at this moment in time we are, rather
like yourself, disseminating all the information and the playback
we are getting. It is probably just a little bit too early. It
is amazing how many extremes there are within this so far.
(Mr Bansback) Can I just add to that, Chairman. We
regard this as a very serious proposal and, as it stands, it has
got some major practical implications for important sectors of
the industry and, therefore, we have a working party with the
industry that is looking at a response. If I might just give a
flavour of where our thinking is going on this. We feel that it
is difficult to split this particular proposal with the future
of animal identification because the two go hand in hand and it
would, therefore, be sensible to look at the issue of electronic
identification, or whatever is being proposed, in conjunction
with this to come up with the optimum solution. I think if one
has that then you can get the best solution which can be as practical
as possible. At the moment we are concerned about the practicalities
of some of the suggestions here.
564. Can I finally make a point. When you ran
Hazelwood Foods, how long after the financial year end did you
produce your Annual Report?
(Mr Barr) That is a good point. Three months.
565. We have just had laid before the House
of Commons the Annual Report for the MLC in the year ending 31
March 2000, which is now 14 months after. That is a long time,
is it not?
(Mr Barr) Yes. I think that will not happen again.
566. That is very reassuring. You referred just
a short while ago to Harry Potter.
(Mr Barr) Yes.
567. I suppose we should say that you have decided
to consume a goblet of fire. That is volume four.
(Mr Barr) He actually did not decide.
568. I was going to ask you whether you were
Dumbledore, which of the characters you saw yourself as. You may
need some magic in this job in the present situation where we
have an industry which is, as you say, on its back because of
foot and mouth and we have an MLC who farmers always grumble about.
Whenever you go to auctions and markets everyone criticises the
levy which goes to the MLC because nobody is convinced you get
value for money from it, no doubt probably because farmers are
like that. No doubt if you were a promotional body for a widget
you would get the same reaction from the manufacturers. There
are an awful lot of people talking in glib terms about reforming
the CAP and how the world is about to change totally because the
Germans happen to have a slightly unusual Agricultural Minister.
If we called you back a year from now, what would you be able
to tell us in the realistic world?
(Mr Barr) I would certainly like to feel that we were
well on the way to achieving the restoration of consumer confidence
and, providing the priming money was there, that sales were well
recovered and that levies were recovering. I would hope that one
could share with you a very cohesive strategy to bring this industry
into best practice and that would not be simply just to try to
get it back to where it was but to say where should it be rather
than where was it. I have learned a lot today as well. A number
of points that you have all made certainly expressed things that
I have thought but much more cohesively. We will start a discussion
and we will try to take the best brains we can, not to invent
a camel but simply to say what do the best brains and the best
experience think, because the only way you can produce this speed
of step change is to try to get as much experience as you can
to bear on it. I would hope that a year from now we would be able
to have a cohesive plan which has started and at least show that
we have started on how to bring this industry forward.
569. And if you did not get the £25 million
from the Government?
(Mr Barr) I think we are going to struggle because
it is going to be much, much harder to recover the market once
the shopping patterns have been broken. There is still time to
catch it up. We now have a hiccough as opposed to a large pause,
a hiccough that probably would have been broken by summer barbecuing
and so on anyway. All of my experience is get it now and you will
save a lot of money. It is the knock-on effect of not getting
Chairman: Gentlemen, thank you very much indeed.
I have no doubt whatsoever that the future Select Committeeof
course we are dissolved along with Parliament so none of us know
whether we will reappear in this particular manifestationwill
also want to keep in contact with you and examine your progress.
Thank you for coming today.