What are political parties promising for horticulture ahead of the general election? - UPDATED

Political parties are trying to outdo each other with their plans to go net zero carbon and to plant more trees, as pledges come out ahead of the 12 December general election.

Pledges:

  • Conservative Party: £640m "Nature for Climate" fund, England Peatland Strategy, single-use plastics, doubling funding for green research and development, carbon net zero by 2050, 30 million trees a year by 2025. Manifesto launch 24 November: Backing Withdrawal Agreement Bill before Christmas to complete Brexit by end of January. Right to Retrain with a £3bn for a new National Skills Fund. Ban on exporting plastic waste outside the OECD. Confirms new Office for Environmental Protection, and UK's own legal targets.
  • Labour Party: Teb new National Nature Parks in its first term and plant two billion new trees by 2040, "to tackle the climate and environment emergency". There will be £2.5bn will be available for tree planting in National Parks and the National Forest, as well as urban parks, farmland, community woodlands, schools and publicly owned land. These plans alongside restored parks, pathways, cycle routes and canals will create ‘natural corridors’. It is estimated 20,000 new green jobs will be created in forestry management and timber trades as part of Labour’s plans for one million green jobs under its Green Industrial Revolution programme for government.
  • "The substantial majority of our emissions reductions" by 2030. £83bn extra public sector spending by 2023/24 raised through tax rises. A Climate and Environment Emergency Bill setting out new standards for decarbonisation, nature recovery, environmental quality and habitats and species protection. Plan for Nature -legally binding targets to drive the restoration of species and habitats. "An ambitious programme of tree planting." Producers responsible for the waste they create and for the full cost of recycling or disposal. Defra funding up £70m by 2023-24, including £50m for Natural England. Re-establish an Agricultural Wages Board in England. Shadow environment secretary Sue Hayman said peat will be banned under a Labour government.
  • Liberal Democrats: Net zero by 2045, 60 million trees a year by 2025.
  • Green Party: Zero-carbon by 2030, £100bn to fight climate change.

The Conservative Government has said it will quadruple the number of migrant workers taking seasonal jobs on British farms next year via its Seasonal Agricultural Workers pilot. This would allow fruit and vegetable growers to hire up to 10,000 workers from outside the EU for temporary roles in 2020, up from 2,500 in 2019.

Defra secretary Theresa Villiers says a Conservative majority Government would guarantee to match the current £3bn annual budget available to farmers in every year of the next Parliament, giving "farmers across the UK the reassurance they need to plan for the future”.


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Workers

Labour plans to restore the overseas domestic workers’ visa. If we remain in the EU, freedom of movement would continue. If we leave, Labour would seek to protect rights of free movement of EU citizens

A survey carried out by the Ornamental Horticulture Roundtable into skills shortages found thath men make up 60% of horticulture workers, with 80% in arboriculture, 76% in landscaping, 53% in ornamental production, 56% in parks and gardens and 46% in garden retail.

In 2018, new laws meant companies with more than 250 staff have to publish gender pay gaps, with some garden centres having 15% differences.

Ahead of the election, the Labour Party has pledged to close the gender pay gap difference in hourly earnings between men and women by 2030.

The difference between men's and women's average pay would take another 60 years to close under a Conservative government, according to Labour. The Tories say the pay gap is at a record low and there has been "huge progress since 2010" in terms of the number of women in work.

Gender equality and women's rights charity the Fawcett Society says it would take until almost 2080 to close the gender pay gap at the current rate. The Trades Union Congress puts that at about 35 years.

As well as the new 2030 pay gap target, Labour manifesto commitments include introducing a "real living wage" of £10 per hour and creating a workers' protection agency with HMRC that would have powers to fine organisations that fail to report gender pay.

Labour says the agency would certify that firms with more than 250 employees (lowered to 50 by the end of 2020) are meeting gender equality criteria on recruitment, career progression, pay and work-life balance.

The party would also extend maternity pay from nine to 12 months and introduce free childcare for two- to four-year-olds.

Labour says it will raise minimum wage from £8.21 to £10 within a year for over 25s. The Conservatives plan to increase it to £10.50 over the next six years. The party will give EU nationals the right to remain, meaning the no longer have to aplly to continue living and working in the UK. Applications have come from 2.45m so far with 1m yet to apply.

The case for Government support for horticulture

HTA chair James Barnes says the industry will ask Government for support after presenting a document, to include findings of how Dutch horticulture is supported by government and a refreshed Oxford Economics research report, reforecasting the size of the industry in five-to-10 years. In 2018, the Ornamental Horticulture Roundtable-commissioned report found UK horticulture was worth £24.2bn a year.

Speaking at the annual HTA conference in Nottingham, Barnes added: "There will be a case study on why Holland has been so successful as a horticulture and agricultural nation and what the government has done there over the last 60 years."

The "very powerful document will prove substantial economic payback" amid biosecurity and import substitution agendas and "be able to prove to Government the climate change agenda will not be deliverable without a strong horticulture industry".

Barnes said there is a "chance for significant Government support financially and in other ways for growers, landscapers and retailers".

He believes there is a big opportunity for horticulture to be "at the forefront" because environment is now embedded in policy such as national forests and green cities, and because consumers are acting on higher order values in environmental, ethical and social areas.

Barnes said the industry needs "our own house in order", through a sustainability roadmap, and for Government to recognise the scale of the sector to gain an increase in support. "[Then] I believe we can witness the biggest step change in our industry for decades."

The roadmap includes plans on peat, water, energy, plastics and biosecurity. The first draft will be out in 2020. Barnes said the industry needs to be "proactive and not reactive" in these areas.

In its election manfisto, the HTA has asked for support of horticulture, free trade, immigration for sector employment and more detail on tree planting pledges as part of its pre-general election manifesto. The association wants employer taxes and wage floor increases to reflect market conditions. for horticulture to be better  supported by Government, free and frictionless trad, horticulture to be included in immigration policy, and plastic plant pots to be included in a consistent local authority recycling systems.

Producing more food

Labour plans a National Food Commission and make food security a reason to intervene in the economy.

The NFU general election manifesto, Back British Farming: Brexit & Beyond, outlines its target for net zero agriculture by 2040 and its plan for producing more food in the UK "for every budget".

The manifesto covers Brexit, future domestic agricultural policy, "building a thriving countryside", securing a long-term food strategy and "placing science at the heart of decision-making". It also highlights three areas that require immediate attention from a future Government:

  • A commitment that future trade policy will not allow the imports of food produced to standards that would be illegal to produce in the UK, undermining British farm businesses.
  • A long-term investment programme to support British farming.
  • Guaranteed access to a skilled and competent workforce.

NFU president Minette Batters says: “The outcome of this general election will determine the future direction of this country and our farming system, including how we trade with the world, how we invest in our food system and how we attract a workforce.

“British farmers are already world leaders in our standards of animal welfare, environmental protection and food safety, providing the nation with a trusted supply of safe, traceable and affordable food while caring for our iconic countryside.

“However, with the right political environment, we believe that we can deliver even more. From our ambitious vision for net zero agriculture by 2040 to increasing our self-sufficiency by producing more high-quality British food at home, British farmers are up for the challenge.

“However, there are still very real threats that we face as an industry. If we crash out of the EU without a deal or introduce a trade policy that allows imports of food produced to standards that would be illegal to produce here, delivering on our ambitions suddenly becomes very challenging. That is why we are urging all political parties to commit to protecting our standards of production in future trade policy as one of our headline asks in this manifesto.

“Ahead of the general election, I will be speaking to candidates from all parties and reiterating to them the strategic importance of British food and farming to the nation, contributing £122bn to the economy and delivering almost four million jobs. It is absolutely crucial that the issues we raise in this manifesto are addressed by the future Government, to ensure our sector has a sustainable and ambitious future.”

Tree planting

The Confederation of Forest Industries (ConFor) has urged political parties to commit to ambitious tree-planting targets in their general election manifestos, to show they are serious about tackling the climate emergency. 

Chief executive Stuart Goodall has written to the parties, asking them to commit to planting 30,000ha of new woodland annually by 2025 across the UK — about 60 million trees planted every year.

The figures are part of "ambitious but achievable" targets set by ConFor in its Woodland carbon targets policy paper earlier this year and recognise that tree planting at scale is a "simple, low-cost option" to reduce the damaging impacts of climate change.

The paper sets stepped UK-wide targets rising from 15,000ha in 2020 to 30,000ha in 2025 and 40,000ha in 2030. 

This is broken down into specific targets for the four constituent parts of the UK, with the 2025 target including 15,000ha in Scotland, 7,500ha in England, 6,000ha in Wales and 1,500ha in Northern Ireland.  

Opinion

Lobbyist Mark Glover of Newington Communications says the "rise of the environmental agenda" will be significant in the outcome of the election.

Surveys suggest that climate change influences the voting of 74% of 18- to 24-year-olds. The Government's 25-year environment plan states that natural resources must be used more sustainably.

An Ipsos Mori poll has ranked election issues in order of importance:

  1. Brexit 63%
  2. NHS 38%
  3. Crime 24%
  4. Environment 21%
  5. Education 18%

The Environment Bill cites natural capital, environment net gain in planning decisions and zero avoidable plastic waste by the end of 2042. Other pledges are to:

  • Increase woodland by 12% by 2060.
  • Reduce flooding and drought.
  • Mitigate climate change.

Also on the statute book are an Agriculture Bill, Migration Bill and Education Bill, all relevant to horticulture.

Glover cites green pledges such as the Conservative's £640m "Nature for Climate" fund, the "England Peatland Strategy", plastics promises, doubling funding for green research and development, net zero by 2060 and 30 million trees per year by 2025 as well as Labour's net zero by 2030 and the Liberals net zero by 2045 and 60 million trees a year by 2025.

He says it is "critical for industry to be able to respond to these pledges post-election" and notes that the election could be "remarkably close".

Responding to the Conservative Election Manifesto, Helen Dickinson, Chief Executive of the British Retail Consortium, said:

On Brexit:

“We welcome the commitment to end the Brexit uncertainty at the earliest opportunity. However, it is essential that politicians commit to a future of frictionless, tariff-free trade to protect consumers from higher costs and less availability of everyday essentials.”

On Immigration:

“As the largest private sector employer in the UK, it is critically important that any future immigration system is viable. We need a demand-led system which ensures that retail, and all its complex supply chains, are able to access workers of all skill levels in sufficient numbers."

On Business Taxes:

We welcome the commitment to review our broken business rates system, which holds back investment and accelerates job losses and store closures across the country. Currently, retail accounts for 5% of the economy, yet pays 10% of all business taxes and 25% of business rates. To solve this, retailers welcome the calls to reduce business rates levied on retail business, but it is vital that this is applied to retailers of all sizes, including larger businesses, otherwise the benefit to our high streets and town centres will be limited.

“Proposed cuts to National Insurance contributions are also welcomed as part of the need to bring down the business tax burden. The next Government should reduce the tax burden further, through business rates reforms including scrapping ‘downwards transition’, which costs retailers £1.3bn over five years, and introducing an ‘improvement relief’ to boost investment in retail locations."

On Skills:

"We are encouraged to see the Conservatives commitment to the training of workforces across the UK with an extra £600 million per year towards up skilling of employees. The retail industry must be able to train their workforce so that employees’ skills remain relevant for the jobs of the future.  The increase in the National Skills Funds is welcomed by the industry but we urge them to allow greater flexibility in how retailers can spend their Apprenticeship Levy funds."

Labour was backed by 23.8% of horticulturists, Liberal Democrats by 21.4% and Greens by 4.8%. Other parties such as Plaid Cymru and SNP made up the remainder of the vote.
More than half of those who took part in the online survey of voting intentions - 57% - said Brexit was an important driver for making their decision. Only 7.1% said Brexit was not important when they considered their vote.
The responses came from a cross-section of the sector, including one-third from ornamental horticulture and a quarter from garden centres, with the rest split between fresh produce growers, parks and gardens professionals, arborists and landscape professionals.
Typical comments included: "I voted to remain but accept the referendum result. I believe that the conservatives will take us quickly out of the EU. I am tired of listening to endless debate."
Another respondee said: "I think Brexit will be neutral or possibly slightly positive for horticulture but a disaster for the country."


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