What does a hung Parliament mean for the horticulture industry?

Uncertainty, Brexit, labour, investment and a policy hiatus feature among horticulture industry key concerns following an election which resulted in a hung Parliament.

The Conservatives had no overall majority following the general election on 8 June

Sterling's value initially fell 1.7% against the euro and 2% against the dollar. 

Some industry figures say they hope their businesses will be able to carry on as before, after the election pause, but they still have concerns about Brexit negotiations starting this June, while all cited continuing uncertainty as a key issue.

Managing director of landscape and construction firm Crown Group, Gareth Emberton said the business strategy he formulated following the Brexit vote was "more in focus now because of the chaos that’s ensued in the General Election".

He said he believed the Conservatives were still the party to take the country forward but had "seriously got it wrong" over Brexit and the General Election.

"Not one but two Conservative prime ministers have committed political hara-kiri. I think the Conservatives are the party of chaos now," he said. "There are so many parties saying they won’t do deals I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s another election. This election has asked more questions than it has answered."

Emberton predicted continuing uncertainly would affect landscape projects. 

"We saw that before the Scottish and EU referendums that I think people sandbagged projects to wait and see what’s going on and who’s in power. That’s going to delay orders.

Infrastructure projects uncertainty

"With infrastructure projects, for example, we won’t know what money’s going to be spent because there’s no policy." He pointed out that the roll-out of the British Business Bank, which would have been of benefit to SMEs had been delayed until after the election and now may not happen at all.

But he said businesses needed to "make a plan to make the best of it. You’ve got to be resilient in your business strategy going forward. You can’t sit there and cry about it because it’s not going to help."

He added: "We need to stop politicians being the centre of focus in the country and for business to be the centre of focus, because that is what drives the country."

HTA horticulture head Raoul Curtis-Machin said Brexit uncertainty remained an issue: "Whilst the dust settles on the UK hung Parliament, we hope progress will shortly resume on the industry strategy. We are confident at the HTA that the strategy work will continue irrespective of party colours, because it is for the good of all British industry post-Brexit. Our member businesses would welcome more clarity about what Brexit will mean, so we are glad that the negotiations are planned to re-commence."

HTA president Adam Wigglesworth added that additional uncertainty "is not helpful" for business decisions and customer confidence.

Brexit issues take priority

And HTA president designate Adam Taylor, Taylor's Bulbs director and son of Conservative Houses of Lords chief whip Lord Taylor of Holbeach, added he expects Brexit to take up the majority of Parliamentary time in this Parliament so all issues associated with that are the immediate priorities for the horticulture industry: "We need to see a decisive policy on access to workers so business can stabilise. Although the result has not worked out as desired, now is the time that all politicians need to show the electorate they can collaborate when needed to get the best deal for our country, the deal we will have to live with for many years to come. Our industry needs to lobby their parliamentarians of all parties with what is important for them, to make sure they realise the importance of our needs. Without industry voices speaking up at this crucial time, we could easily miss out on opportunities to bring our agenda to the table."

Hayloft Plants' Derek Jarman says nothing has changed but Theresa May will be bruised and with hindsight, regretful that she called the election.

He added that he believes she will stay as Prime Minister to take on the Brexit negotiations beginning this month, but that "we will be a laughing stock in Europe" over our confusion about leaving the EU".

Immigration controls concern

Jarman said the Conservative Party right wing will continue to push for immigration controls, which is "not clever" because "the industry can't survive without them [migrant workers]".

He added that he believes sterling has bottomed out at 1.12-1.13 against the Euro, which is "ok" for importers but not reaching the predicted parity from last June's referendum is not such good news for exporters. 

Managing diector Alan Roper, of Blue Diamond, Britain's third biggest garden centre group, also was concerned about Brexit negotiations post-election:

"I think Brexit It is a much bigger threat, so with the Conservatives in a coalition maybe we will benefit with a softer Brexit as they may have to compromise over their hard Brexit approach. Many young people voted for Corbyn and they were overwhelmingly 'remainers' and they will be mindful of this.

He gave a possible scenario: "Brexit in 2 years time will cause the economy to falter and slide and 2 to 3 years into a post-Brexit world with the affects of Brexit clear and the next election due the electorate will reach out and blame the sitting Conservative government and let Corbyn in and we will be back to 1975 because of his policies. Not a thrilling  prospect!"

Horticulture consultant Neville Stein says the election result was "shocking" for the country and the industry.

He said: "Whilst I am not a Tory voter, I was optimistic that Theresa May would be returned with a higher majority as what our industry really needs now is a strong leader, with a mandate from the British people to go and negotiate a Brexit deal that is favourable to the UK. My worry is that the position now is weakened and incredibly insecure."

This will lead to "at best", a minority government, "at worst" a leadership contest or another general election: "All this leads to insecurity in the markets - businesses like certainty and we do not have that now."

Investment fears

Uncertainty leads to people holding back on investment and delaying decisions and at worst it dampens the economy. Another worry for Stein is inflation because of a weak pound which will put up all input costs for horticultural enterprises.

Plants for Europe's Graham Spencer agreed increased uncertainty was a key concern. "It's now even more unclear what the outcome of Brexit might be. We need some clarity from the new government and quickly, particularly with regard to negotiating positions. Business planning just got even harder. We also need government to be stable, but I wonder how long it will be before there is another election."

NFU President Meurig Raymond said: "The NFU is committed to start working with whoever forms the new government to ensure all areas of Whitehall understand and value the importance of British food and farming.  The NFU has a good relationship with all parties and, as ever, will work with whoever is in power to promote the interests of British farming.

Need for clarity on horticulture and agriculture

"British farming underpins the country’s largest manufacturing sector and with farming arguably the sector most impacted by Brexit, NFU members need clarity and certainty as soon as possible over who will govern the country and how they plan to support profitable, productive and progressive agriculture and horticulture in the future. The NFU will be seeking early meetings with Ministers. It is important for our industry to have clarity and see certainty from a functioning administration as soon as possible.

"British farms currently grow the raw ingredients for the UK food and drink manufacturing sector worth £109 billion and for every £1 invested, farming delivers seven-fold back to this country. Moreover, it is clear the British public value and want to continue to buy British food."

"If the formal Brexit negotiations begin as planned on June 19 we will continue to push for the right post-Brexit trade deal, regulatory framework, a domestic agricultural policy suited to Britain and access to a competent, reliable workforce.

"We are also calling on the new government to support British farming through a number of other measures, including a commitment to continue with the 25-year TB Eradication strategy, ensuring regulation is based on robust scientific evidence, and tackling the increasing problems of rural crime. The government should be proud to promote British food at home and abroad and champion British food and farming through its public procurement policy."

Speaking ahead of Theresa May's expected visit to Buckingham Palace to seek permission to form a new UK government, BALI chief executive Wayne Grills said BALI and other bodies representing horticulture would inevitably have some work to do as there would at least be a cabinet reshuffle.

Former Defra minister George Eustice clung onto his seat in Cornwall, with a substantially reduced majority.

"If we can keep George Eustice in place that would be good," Grills said. "He understands the industry and I think we were making progress there. If Labour gets in we’ve got to start afresh. It’s a bit up in the air. But we’re quite well versed now in what we need to do and who we need to speak to."

Landscape market buoyant

Grills said the landscape market remained buoyant. "Everybody I’ve spoken to all report they are very busy. We’ve seen some projects postponed or cut back slightly but from a contractor point of view business is still looking good. We do have to be mindful of is that the landscaping industry is six to 12 months behind the economy."

For parks, continued uncertainty will only further delay the much-anticipated ministerial response to the Communities and Local Government Committee’s parks inquiry report.

It can take six weeks to two months after a new government is formed for Parliament to go through the nomination, election and selection process for the chairs of the select committees and the committee members. Until a new Communities and Local Government Committee is in place, it cannot publish the response, even if it has received it from government.

Parliament is also due to rise for the summer recess in July for a break which lasts until September, and so it is unlikely to be published before the autumn, when the party conference season may also disrupt progress.

Hiatus for parks

Parks consultant and author of the two Heritage Lottery Fund State of UK Public Parks reports, Peter Neal, said there would be a hiatus while the dust settled.

"Parks have benefitted during periods of political stability and that has coincided with clear policy and time to deliver on those policy commitments. A hung parliament is not good for clear policy."

But he said it was important to remember that parks bridge the political divide.

"The sector has to bide its time but keep an eye on the action - there’s an opportunity for further advocacy. There’s an opportunity to take the agenda both to those both nationally and locally that are forming policy and making decisions.

"With both existing and new MPs there’s an opportunity to bring the parks agenda to the forefront."

He said the election result, particularly the distribution of votes in the north where austerity has hit parks particularly hard, showed that austerity was a big factor in people’s choices.

He added: "One has to be opportunistic and take these opportunities as they come along."

Country Landowners Association chairman Ross Murray said: "This result adds further uncertainty to a period of significant upheaval. Immediate attention will inevitably be on the implications of this result for securing a Brexit deal that will work in the long-term interests of agriculture and the wider economy. We remain confident that the right deal can be done."


 


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