Rare chance for horticulture sector to lobby politicians in 'listening mode'

Professionals urged to host 'meet-the-candidate' events and petition over key horticulture issues.

Parliament: garden centres advised to hold meet-the-candidate events ahead of voting in 8 June general election - image: Pixabay

The horticulture industry has a rare opportunity to have its voice heard by lobbying politicians "in listening mode" who are campaigning for the 8 June general election, which will be a rare vote where European issues including labour and imports/exports post-Brexit could be higher on the agenda than many domestic ones.

HTA president designate and Taylors Bulbs director Adam Taylor says Brexit will dominate campaigning. "We need a Government that will not dwell or get caught lacking in negotiating the best deal for the UK," he insists. "There will be a lot of negotiations over the next two years and our country needs strength in those talks. We need a strong Government to get on and negotiate what is best for the UK."

Taylor, whose father Baron Taylor of Holbeach is House of Lords chief whip, points out that labour supply is also an important lobbying issue for the industry. "Apart from continuing economic stability, the specific issue that I will be looking for political parties to address will be the availability of seasonal labour for horticulture and agriculture.

"Immigration is far from the simple issue some seem to believe but many industries require migrant labour for our country to continue to flourish and horticulture is certainly one where we need the type of worker that moves from one seasonal harvest or packing job to another. The disruption of that supply of labour could have serious implications on our competitiveness."

HTA horticulture head Raoul Curtis-Machin has written a response to Government green paper Building our Industrial Strategy, outlining 10 areas where horticulture is important such as investing in science, developing skills and supporting business. The HTA says these 10 areas are the same as those on which the association is lobbying ahead of the general election.

Newington Communications chief executive Mark Glover, who has organised the All-Party Parliamentary Gardening & Horticulture Group (APPGHG) for 17 years, suggests garden centres hold "meet-the-candidate" events and says horticulture businesses and trade bodies must be heard above farming. "General elections are normally fought on domestic issues but this one is going to be overshadowed by Brexit and Europe," he adds.

"Employment practice might crop up, which might have an impact for horticulture. The industry needs to be very clear on what it wants out of national minimum wage, self-employed status and migrant labour, and on what it wants about regulations with Europe on pesticides.

"The industry needs to make clear what access it needs for European markets and managing imports and retaining access to export markets, particularly for UK-grown ornamental horticulture exports. The key part is to let the Government know what the industry wants. This is an opportunity to engage because candidates are in listening mode. It is critical horticulture's voice is not lost within wider debate around agriculture - that's the danger because of the emphasis on European subsidies for farmers."

APPGHG secretary Rebecca Pow MP says her top-three campaigning priorities are skills shortages, technology and innovation; buying British, including a "Buy British" button for online shopping; and "to leave the environment in a better place than we found it".

Landscape Institute president Merrick Denton-Thompson would like a "landscape infrastructure act to secure a corporate commitment from across all Government departments and throughout local government that recognises the priceless benefits to the health and well-being of everyone being able to access a multifunctional landscape." Such a commitment would lead to the transformation of the landscape framework to all housing, workplaces, urban areas and the countryside, he adds.

School playgrounds

Denton-Thompson also wants an investment strategy for all 37,000 school playgrounds that will "transform children's attitude to learning by providing experiential learning facilities across the whole curricula". Such a dynamic outside environment would "create the best place to make friends for life, to reconnect young people with wildlife and food production, and to provide the countless opportunities for all types of play".

He is also looking to the next Government to publish a national land management policy that would outline how Westminster investment in UK farming, following our withdrawal from the EU Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), should lead to a restoration of the nation's soils and re-aligning food production to harness the power of natural systems rather than continue to suppress them.

Landscape Institute chief executive Daniel Cook says: "Given the context of this election we also see opportunities for better landscape management as an impact of Brexit on a chance to rethink environmental stewardship as part of an integrated approach between farmers, landowners, the natural environment professions and communities as a replacement for the CAP is developed. We see a joined-up 25-year environmental plan as essential to this next term of Government."

BALI chief executive Wayne Grills is concerned that the interruption will put back the "increasingly positive discussions" industry bodies have been having with Government departments on issues including parks, skills and biosecurity, especially if parliamentary seats are lost and departmental ministers change. BALI wants a public inquiry into the "looming landscaping and grounds maintenance industry skills shortage", particularly in light of Brexit and the expected loss of EU workers. As part of this, Grills says Government must recognise the financial impact of the National Living Wage, workplace pensions and the apprenticeship levy on contractors in local authority fixed contracts and provide additional funding for local authorities to cover these costs.

BALI also wants landscaping and grounds maintenance to be given specific industry status, with its own standard industrial classification code for research and data collection, and for Government to actively promote it as a specific career path.

Parks inquiry response

The Government's response to the Communities & Local Government committee's parks inquiry has been delayed by the forthcoming election. The Government was due to respond to the recommendations set out in the committee's inquiry report on 8 April but has requested and been granted an extension to 13 May.

A spokesman says the committee understands that the Department for Communities & Local Government is working hard on a response but if it does not arrive by 2 May the committee will have to wait until after the election to publish.

Parks consultant and author of the two Heritage Lottery Fund State of UK Public Parks reports Peter Neal warns that elections often provide an opportunity to quietly drop difficult issues. "We just hope the Government will commit to continue to have a parks minister," he says. "I'd like to see a parks task force as a manifesto commitment to focus on how you are going to fund parks in a robust and sustainable nature rather than ad hoc and non-transferrable measures. The concern is there will be more pressing issues."

But he says there is a great opportunity at both national and local level to re-instate a commitment to parks and candidates should be persuaded of the value of investing in green infrastructure for health and well-being. "It has to be a vote winner. There's a bigger agenda than just a Brexit election, although that's driving it."

Chief executive of the Parks Trust, Milton Keynes, David Foster says he has just one manifesto pledge he would like to see the parties taking up. The new Government should provide "tangible support and encouragement to those local authorities wishing to establish parks trusts to manage their parks".

He adds that parks should be a campaigning issue and recommends that everyone contacts their local MP and candidates to ask them what they will do to "avert the crisis in public parks".

The Woodland Trust says policy priorities must include fully transposing and maintaining existing EU environmental laws and principles into UK law, real protection for our irreplaceable ancient woodland habitats, environmental security through a new land-use policy, the creation of 250,000ha of woodland near to towns and cities, faster planting rates and green infrastructure being integral to new developments.

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