Levy Board UK is in flux after DEFRA accepted the resignation of chair-designate of the horticultural sector company John Hall, following what DEFRA describes as a “conflict of interest under the public appointment code in relation to a previous business he had”.
DEFRA said the liquidation of Hall’s ownership of Needham Growers “was not declared in the selection process”. Needham Growers was liquidated two years ago.
A DEFRA representative said: “Ministers accepted his resignation. They understand his reasons for doing so because of the conflict of interest. It has come to light the previous business was not declared at the time of appointment.”
DEFRA will appoint an interim levy board representative “fairly shortly” and a replacement for Hall “as soon as possible”.
Hall said an anonymous letter going round the industry about the £1.3m liquidation of Needham in 2005 caused his demise. “Whoever was sending it was trying to dig up old news. There was absolutely nothing new. The trouble was, this letter was popping up all over the place and came up at every meeting I went to. It was all in the public domain at the time and was extremely painful for me and a lot of other people. So on Friday I said I wasn’t putting up with it anymore.
“I owned Needham for a long time and it was a well-known fact it went into administration. My whole history came up at the interview.”
It has also emerged that a senior industry figure turned down the role because DEFRA took too long to give details of the work required.
HTA director-general David Gwyther said: “This is the second potential chairman we’ve lost and it does make it difficult for people like the HTA to work with the new HDC set-up. We are anxious that it progresses at a reasonable rate toward sensible plans that sit comfortably for horticultural levy payers.
“There’s a hell of a lot of work to do to get things up and running before April 2008 and it’s starting well behind the field.”
HDC chairman Martin Beckenham said Hall’s previous business was “a well-known thing” and “he could not expect it not to be talked about but maybe it was talked about more than he expected”.
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