Reshuffle delays sector's Defra meeting

Sector hopes replacement of Defra secretary of state Owen Paterson will not put brakes on industry-wide engagement.

Truss: Patterson’s replacement
Truss: Patterson’s replacement

The sacking of Defra secretary of state Owen Paterson has upset recent industry engagement with Government - but representatives hope key meetings will be rescheduled soon.

The RHS and HTA had arranged a summit with Paterson at Wisley in September and HTA director Carol Paris was due to meet the minister on the day he was replaced by former education minister Liz Truss. Paris went to Defra head office only to be turned away.

She said: "The meeting was cancelled because of the reshuffle and there's no reschedule yet." She is waiting to hear when the meetingcan be rescheduled. Issues on the agenda were biosecurity, import substitution, careers, skills shortages, water abstraction and sustainable growing media.

"We've been making very good traction with Government. I've no concerns the departure of Owen Paterson will impact that. The industry round table I assume will happen. I've not heard any reason why not," said Paris.

"We had very useful dealings with Owen and he understood the key issues affecting the industry. I hope the incoming lady will have the same keenness to learn about it. I've put in a request for a meeting and I hope that will happen fairly soon."

HTA horticulture head Raoul Curtis-Machin said: "Hopefully there will be no impact. Liz Truss is very interested in skills, careers and lightening the regulatory load on businesses, so she might prove even better than Paterson because these are core policy areas that we're all lobbying hard on."

RHS horticulture director Tim Upson added: "With the reshuffle there is a question mark of the detail (of the meeting) and what will happen, but hopefully there seems to have been some good contact built up. We'll re-engage once the new appointee settles down. It's a change of personnel but not a change of direction."

A Defra representative said: "I hope to confirm as soon as possible, but obviously the new secretary of state has been in the post only a few days so we will need to confirm diary."

Water abstraction Meeting held to discuss concerns over reform

The HTA's Carol Paris and Raoul Curtis-Machin have had an "encouraging" meeting on water abstraction reform with Defra minister Dan Rogerson.

Curtis-Machin said: "We were representing horticulture (ornamental and edible) together with the NFU and CLA. We asked the minister about the future of trickle irrigation licensing and he explained that there would be further consultation on this in late summer and autumn.

"Along with Defra officials, he took on board our other concerns about Environment Agency proposals to claw back portions of unused licensed volumes. They appreciated that it is very difficult for growers to estimate water usage in an uncertain commercial environment."

He added: "They also took on board our points about the vulnerability of plants to any water shortages, especially container-grown and glasshouse/covered crops."

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