Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Written Evidence

Memorandum submitted by the Borough Council of King's Lynn & West Norfolk (O33)

  1.  The sugar beet industry is very important to the Borough due to the presence of British Sugar's principal processing factory at Wissington.

  2.  Whilst we all accept the need for reform of the current regime, it is imperative that changes are made in a controlled, measured and sustainable way, to ensure that there is a stable operational environment for growers and processors in the UK, EU, and just as importantly, in the developing countries.

  3.  The paper "Review of the European Sugar Sector—the Position of the UK Beet Sugar Industry" produced jointly by British Sugar and the NFU in October 2003 clearly states the importance and efficiency of the UK sugar beet industry, but also highlights it's vulnerability to wholesale changes in the regime which might be brought in without opportunities for the industry to adapt.

  4.  I would also highlight the following areas of importance:

    4.1  The sugar beet industry plays a vital role in supporting rural economies not just in our Borough, but across much of Norfolk, Suffolk, Cambridgeshire and Lincolnshire. For example, around 20% of the cultivated land area in Norfolk is used for beet growing.

    4.2  The three factories at Wissington, Cantley and Bury St Edmunds process almost 70% of the UK beet harvest. Due to this close concentration, local economies and employment structures would suffer severely if the UK industry was adversely hit by any review.

    4.3  Given the difficulties already being experienced by the agricultural sector, any measures which resulted in the sudden deterioration in viability of the sugar beet industry will have a grave impact on rural economies and rural jobs.

    4.4  The Wissington factory alone has a huge and beneficial impact on our local economy, with direct payments to growers in the region of £80 million per annum. With the addition of salaries, local suppliers and contractors, this figure exceeds £100 million.

  5.  The Borough Council supports the representations of British Sugar and the NFU that the best outcome of the current review will be a stable UK and EU market which will allow sustainable production and processing, in the developing countries as well as the EU. This will give all parties the confidence to invest in the longer-term.

  6.  Any changes which might lead to a volatile or unpredictable market would be counterproductive to producers and processors in both the developing countries and the EU. The resultant volatility, reduced profitability, lack of confidence and investment will damage all economies involved.

  7.  Consequently, the Borough Council urges both the UK Government and the European Council of Ministers to adopt Option 1 as the most appropriate method of ensuring that the sector is reformed in a carefully managed way which will result in a stable European market which will support efficient industries in both the developing countries and the EU, and which will avoid any volatile market movements which could be detrimental to all involved.

29 March 2004

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