Sector responds to pre-election promises

Common Agricultural Policy, improved broadband coverage and employment figure among plans set out by major parties

Parliament: parties setting out policies ahead of polling day on 7 May - image: HW
Parliament: parties setting out policies ahead of polling day on 7 May - image: HW

Measures to promote food, farming and employment set out by all major political parties ahead of polling day on 7 May

With the closest general election in a generation only a week away, all major political parties have been promoting measures on food, farming and employment - with some degree of overlap.

NFU president Meurig Raymond said: "It's good to see our ask for a comprehensive plan to grow UK food production promised by the Conservatives, Labour and Liberal Democrats as well as cross-party support for the groceries code adjudicator extension, high-speed broadband for rural areas and better food labelling."

Reforming and simplifying the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) is a further commitment made by the Conservatives, Labour, Lib Dems and SNP alike.

But overall economic recovery is the main priority for some industry figures. British Growers chief executive Jack Ward told Grower: "The economic difficulties in the past five or six years have had an effect on our sector. Also, food has recently been inflation-free, but growers' costs have not been."

Echoing this, English Apples & Pears chief executive Adrian Barlow said: "What's terribly important is there should be a robust economic policy to ensure the country's finances continue to improve, unemployment falls and wages rise. The amount of money in people's pockets matters when they shop for fresh fruit."

On the parties' pledges over improved broadband coverage, Barlow added: "High-speed broadband in rural areas is also increasingly necessary if you want to run a successful business."

On Conservative plans on farm oversight, he said: "Reducing the number of farm visits will require some joined-up thinking but can reduce the cost and administrative burden, as would improvements with the Rural Payments Agency."

He added: "It's good that the parties are talking about simplifying the CAP and strengthening the role of the groceries code adjudicator, although top fruit has generally had a good relationship with the multiples."

Labour, meanwhile, has pledged to beef up the Gangmasters Licensing Authority with specialist police units and enforcement staff, while both Labour and the Conservatives plan to tighten migrants' language requirements and all three main UK parties plan to restrict migrants' eligibility for welfare payments.

Labour leader Ed Miliband said last month: "Everyone in Britain should know how to speak English. We can only build a shared society if we speak the same language."

Soft-fruit grower and NFU horticulture and potatoes board member Anthony Snell said: "We like to employ people with a good level of English anyway, as it's important for communication and health and safety. It does have the potential to limit supply, which is always a worry as they can go elsewhere."

As for proposed closer monitoring of the labour market, Snell said: "We are already just about the most tightly regulated employers in the world. Besides having to work within the law, we have lots of audits, some with an ethical component."

On the Conservatives' restated commitment to an in-out referendum on EU membership, he added: "It's important we stay in the EU under revised terms. We are very well integrated in Europe through (marketing group) Berry Gardens and have many clients there. Producer organisation funding has been crucial to the development of UK horticulture."

Ward added: "Partnership with Europe is very important. Two years of arguing for in or out will affect confidence, whatever the outcome. In such uncertainty people will say: 'Why should I deal with you?' It wouldn't do anyone any favours."

Political parties detail election pledges in manifestos

Conservative Party

Develop a 25-year plan to promote British food.

Allow farmers to smooth their profits for tax purposes over five years rather than two.

Treble the number of apprenticeships in food, farming and agri-tech.

Support a "science-led approach" on GM crops and pesticides.

Co-ordinate farm visits through a single farm inspection task force.

Promote British food abroad via a Great British food unit.

Guarantee that Government departments purchase food "to British standards of production".

Hold a straight in-out referendum on EU membership by the end of 2017.

Labour Party

Put in place a long-term strategy for food and farming.

Expand the role of the groceries code adjudicator and protect food producers from unfair practices.

Bring down low-skilled migration.

Create a new unit to oversee migrant labour, bringing together the Gangmasters Licensing Authority, specialist police units and Home Office enforcement staff.

Liberal Democrats

Introduce a national food strategy.

Implement and expand Defra's local food procurement plan.

Give greater discretion to the groceries code adjudicator.


Further devolve welfare, wages, taxation and economic management to Scotland.

Fully devolve food levies to support the promotion of Scotland's food and drink.

Increase the national minimum wage to £8.70 an hour by 2020.


Continue to subsidise British farmers after UK exit from the EU, redistributing payments in favour of smaller food producers and family farms.

Allow a free vote in Parliament on the commercial cultivation of GM foods.

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