Defra minister says he will flag up skills shortage with the education secretary

Environment secretary Owen Paterson has pledged to raise the issue of the horticultural skills gap with education secretary Michael Gove.

Owen Paterson: pledged to raise issue
Owen Paterson: pledged to raise issue
He made the promise at a meeting of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Gardening and Horticulture earlier this month.

RHS director general Sue Biggs said this news was the part of the meeting the group was most pleased with.

She added: "We all feel that the skills shortage we have is a real worry. If nobody comes out of school wanting to work in horticulture, in 20 years there will be nobody who will have the skills the industry needs.

"We need to get horticulture in the curriculum in key stage one to four - that's the starting point. We also have to make sure that there's enough further and higher education courses."

The Horticulture Matters report, launched in the House of Commons in May, detailed these issues.

Paterson had not yet read the report, but Biggs said he would consult with fellow Defra minister David Heath, who was at the launch, after reading it.

Biggs added: "I hope that's what happens. I feel that Paterson is a very straightforward, straight-talking guy. I think he is good for horticulture and I think we can all be glad he's there."

The All Party Parliamentary Group for Gardening and Horticulture, which is sponsored by Horticulture Week, the RHS, BALI, the HTA and City of London Corporation, has an annual meeting with the Defra secretary, but Biggs said a further meeting before next summer was likely.

Industry skills gap: 'A ticking time bomb'

BALI chief operations officer Wayne Grills described the skills gap as "a ticking time bomb".

He said: "The meeting was an important opportunity to appraise Owen Paterson of the situation in what can only be described as a ticking time bomb for the horticulture and landscape industries. As the economy strengthens, BALI members want to be ready to take advantage of the contract opportunities that will undoubtedly arise. But if they are struggling to recruit qualified managers and skilled operatives, those opportunities will pass them by and limit their potential for growth."

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