Select Committee on Agriculture Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum submitted by Snaith Salad Growers Ltd (D 10)

  The discontent in the horticulture industry over the September reorganisation of HRI agreed between MAFF officials and the HRI Board has been very well rehearsed in the horticulture press and by Mr Grogan MP in his adjournment debate of 6 November 2000.

  The "if we say it enough times people will believe us or get fed up" response of MAFF is also well rehearsed (also in your MAFF response). No doubt your committee will enquire into these conflicting views.

  We are also fed up with the excuses of the HRI Board that they wish there were somewhere else in organisational terms. It could be that they should be somewhere else since they appear to be unable to satisfy their customers that they are managing their company within its objectives.

  We would, however, like to express some views on the possible way forward for horticulture and its vital research/technology spend.

  It is a helpful coincidence that MAFF are consulting regarding their 2001-05 research strategy. You may be able to enquire how responses to this reflect on MAFF/HRI relationship.

  It is imperative that the horticultural industry receive funding to ensure we develop our business efficiency and technical ability to meet our customers needs so that they continue to prefer to buy British.

  MAFF must, in sponsoring projects, ensure this objective is always in their mind and that they convey this to HRI scientists. The Link projects do tend to have good delivery disciplines and this could be extended with advantage to all MAFF funding.

  Growers have demonstrated, by re-electing the Horticultural Development Council and participating with significant time commitment to HDC committees, that they are supporting near market science (technology transfer).

  The present stress and misgiving within the industry over MAFF/HRI delivery may, we regret, illustrate that the merger of science and development envisaged in 1990 when HRI was created cannot be managed. The failure of HRI to hold its business managers and its re-emphasis through SCICOM of scientists trying to carry out management raises questions which need to be answered, in particular the effectiveness of the HRI Board.

  It is our view that the very important need for MAFF funded science should remain with HRI but that technology development and transfer should be separated.

  We believe HDC has the confidence of growers as being excellent managers of technology transfer.

  It is an often reiterated statement by Ministers that funding for horticulture research is maintained at a level which compensates the lack of EU funding for our industry.

  We believe that our industry would be best served by these monies being paid to HDC on basis of £1 from MAFF for every grower levy raised £1.

  This would allow the most efficient body and the most grower involved body HDC to really drive technology transfer to our growers. HDC would, we know, insist in any projects planned with HRI having a delivery clause and a financial penalty being applied until such a clause was satisfactorily achieved.

  We regret we have to come to this conclusion but it is obvious from the evidence to the Select Committee that Mr Siddall and Mr Wilson cannot deliver without a wish list which cannot be achieved. MAFF seems unwilling to apply any discipline except financial which scientists find frustrating and incomprehensible. HDC on the other hand has delivered and been given a vote of confidence by the industry.

  The MAFF funds for horticulture are very modest in the great scheme of things but are very important for our industry. Our industry bears the brunt of free market forces, sells 80 per cent direct to supermarkets and has adapted to a new production area in Spain encouraged by EU grants. Why therefore cannot we be trusted to know what research we need? The way we are treated by MAFF scientific officials and HRI would have us believe we are country bumpkins. This is a great error.

  We would ask you to examine splitting MAFF funding of horticulture to:

    (a)  sponsor science through HRI and at same time re-write HRI objectives to deliver science to HDC for technology development and transfer;

    (b)  sponsor HDC £1 for £1 HDC and reinforce their position in the industry for technology development and transfer.

  We have expressed similar views to the MAFF Research Strategy Consultation.

  Thank you for allowing us the opportunity to express our views.

16 November 2000

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