Owen Paterson

    Owen Paterson - Good in leather, but what about support?

    Environment Secretary, Owen Paterson was previously involved in the leather industry, initially in his family’s leather business and subsequently as president of the European Tanners’ Confederation. He now has the CAP reform to manage and other politically sensitive agricultural and food issues.

    The Oxford Farming Conference was Owen Paterson’s first major public opportunity to present his priorities to the industry.  Paterson has the reputation for being robust and he presented a much stronger case on some subjects than his predecessor, Caroline Spelman, despite very similar views.  In common with Spelman, he is also capable of speaking other European languages. 

    Genetic Modification
    The Labour Government was publicly in favour of genetic modification (GM), albeit weakly so, while the Conservative Government has to date publicly tried to avoid the issue.  For example at the 2011 Oxford farming conference Spelman’s speech included no reference to genetic modification despite privately supporting GM technology.  Paterson has made a very significant change by publicly endorsing genetic modification albeit, and quite reasonably, emphasising the need to ensure safety.

    Whether this is because of a change of heart at Cabinet level, or because of a more robust approach, is not clear but, either way, it is a significant development.

    CAP Reform
    All politicians involved with the CAP have emphasised a desire to engage with other countries and create alliances but it looks just possible that Paterson actually will.  The UK’s objectives for the CAP reform are shared by others and Paterson has recognised this.

    Paterson’s view on the CAP reform is much the same as his predecessors (and the previous Government).  Production should be subsidy free and managed by the market, while there is a role for support in delivering items, such as environmental protection, that the market cannot supply.  The stated objective therefore, is to move support from pillar 1 to pillar 2 although he recognises that this is unlikely to be achieved in this reform.  There is an irony -this is a consistent UK mantra yet the UK at present asks for the least pillar 2 money of any country in Europe - which must make negotiation difficult.

    He is almost certainly too late to achieve this sort of radical change this time round and Jim Paice, who also supports the policy, has suggested that the speed of change demanded by Paterson is unrealistic.

    Paterson is arguing for simplification of the reform proposal, as is almost every other member state.  The problem is whether this can be achieved politically without penalising those that it should help.  For example, removal of the ability to set labour cost against the subsidy to reduce the cap on payments would simplify the scheme but leave many of our larger businesses unable to compete with smaller farms for additional land irrespective of relative efficiency.

    Paterson has already picked up the baton on reducing national farm bureaucracy.  The key component is greater emphasis on inspections based on risk.  This means that where a failure is recorded, inspection frequency is increased.  This is not radical thinking and for example was used by MAFF to determine frequency of inspections under the Milk and Dairy Regulation.  However, those who fail an inspection inevitably feel that increased inspection is victimisation and the increased severity of the penalty is a genuine concern – particularly where prevention of the failure has as much to do with chance as management.
     
    The CAP proposals include additional financial help for young farmers.  Paterson again takes a much more robust line, presumably on the grounds that the people attracted into farming by the chance for extra subsidy, are not the entrepreneurs needed to manage businesses through a period of reducing subsidy.  Paterson’s approach is to promote the exciting elements of the industry to attract new entrants.  

     
     

    Key contacts

    Andrew Wraith

    Andrew Wraith

    Director
    Food & Farming

    Savills Lincoln

    +44 (0) 1522 508 973

    +44 (0) 1522 508 973

     

    Steve Hollis

    Steve Hollis

    Director
    Food & Farming

    Savills Salisbury

    +44 (0) 1722 426 853

    +44 (0) 1722 426 853

     

    Ashley Lilley

    Ashley Lilley

    Director
    Food & Farming

    Savills Cheltenham

    +44 (0) 1242 548 012

    +44 (0) 1242 548 012

     

    Giles Hanglin

    Giles Hanglin

    Director
    Rural Research

    Savills Margaret Street

    +44 (0) 207 016 3786

    +44 (0) 207 016 3786