Select Committee on Agriculture Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 560 - 569)

WEDNESDAY 2 MAY 2001

MR PETER BARR, MR GWYN HOWELLS AND MR BOB BANSBACK

Chairman

  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 companies—and it has been actually incredibly successful and it has gone on—where 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 to—as all of us want—help 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 correct?
  (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.

Mr Todd

  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 it?
  (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.

Chairman

  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 it going.

  Chairman: Gentlemen, thank you very much indeed. I have no doubt whatsoever that the future Select Committee—of course we are dissolved along with Parliament so none of us know whether we will reappear in this particular manifestation—will also want to keep in contact with you and examine your progress. Thank you for coming today.





 
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