Defra letter assures IoH it recognises importance of horticulture

Defra minister Jim Paice has responded to Institute of Horticulture president Sue Minter's letter to prime minister David Cameron, accusing the Government of undermining horticulture in its plans to get unemployed people working.

In her letter, Minter urged the Government not to "trivialise" the industry and said: "Rather than making comments that further damage our beleaguered sector, it would be more constructive to instruct your ministers to explore how horticulture can contribute to Government objectives."

In a response letter to Minter, Paice defended the Government's plans and said both he and Cameron recognise the importance of horticulture and its contribution to the economy.

He said: "To clarify the situation, we have made a commitment that the receipt of benefits for those able to work is conditional on their willingness to work and we are giving extra support to a small number of people to help them re-engage with the system, refocus their job search and gain valuable work-related skills and disciplines through mandatory work activity.

"We are not specifying what placements people should undertake as it will be for work activity providers to source these."

He added that the final meeting of the fruit and vegetables task force in October identified the need to attract young people to the industry. The NFU and Lantra are looking to establish a horticultural skills working group in the future.

The original comments suggesting that unemployed people could be put to work gardening also sparked outrage with Professional Gardeners' Guild chairman Tony Arnold, who said it "devalues and demeans the whole industry".

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