The horticulture industry has hailed the first meeting of its kind with DEFRA secretary of state Margaret Beckett as the start of a new era of government-sector co-operation.
The All-Party Parliamentary Gardening & Horticulture Group (APGHG) arranged the 45-minute meeting in London last week.
RHS director general Andrew Colquhoun, HTA director general David Gwyther and BALI chief executive Sandra Loton-Jones said Beckett gave them “a good hearing and created the opportunity to go back to more junior ministers or senior officials”.
Topics included the scale and significance of the industry, the Olympic landscape and horticulture campaign, Greening the Games, the planning regime and the need to encourage more planting.
Also discussed were research and development, the sector skills and hosepipe bans.
Gwyther said: “It was very valuable for our industry to talk directly to the secretary of state. It was a first and put down clearly to her the scale of the industry and its importance. She recognised we should not be seen as a Cinderella industry to agriculture.”
He asked the Government to revisit the Water Industry Act 1991, but Beckett said this was unlikely. She suggested contacting the Office of Water Services (OFWAT).
Loton-Jones said after the meeting that she did not believe Beckett was “truly aware of the acute skills gaps” in the industry, particularly in contract management. She drew Beckett’s attention to the problem, saying annual salaries have risen by up to £10,000 in the past year, due to a lack of qualified managers.
RHS director general and National Horticultural Forum steering committee chairman Andrew Colquhoun brought up research and development and the Radcliffe review: “DEFRA is not quite clear about what to do with the Radcliffe review. It will have to consult again. It does not have adequate support for the Radcliffe proposals.
He added: “We’re asking for help to knock down barriers in other parts of Government that make life difficult for career-changers to come into horticulture.”
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