Supplier calls for Potato Council reform

Sector wants Potato Council to focus on research and development, industry conference hears.

The head of one of the UK's largest fresh-produce suppliers has called for the Potato Council to be merged with the Horticultural Development Company (HDC) and for it to concentrate on research and development, as does the HDC.

Speaking at an FPJ conference earlier this month, Nationwide Produce managing director Tim O'Malley said: "The Potato Council is currently trying to be all things to all men - promotion, marketing, statistics, PR, newsletter, R&D, exhibitions - and, apart from R&D, is not succeeding."

He claimed that "a groundswell of opinion" in the sector would like to see the Potato Council focus purely on its R&D functions.

As the Lancashire-based firm buys 85,000 tonnes of potatoes a year, it has to pay an annual levy to the council of around £15,000. O'Malley contrasted this with the British Onion Producers Association, membership of which costs Nationwide a 20th as much.

He suggested that the crop association model, under the aegis of umbrella body the British Growers Association, offers an alternative vehicle for the Potato Council's current promotional roles.

The call coincides with efforts by some growers to resist paying a levy to fund the HDC. But O'Malley said: "The HDC has high approval because it sticks to what it's good at." With similar revenue, the HDC has 22 staff, compared with the Potato Council's 36, he noted. "There have to be some economies of scale."

Levy-payer ballot Obstacles criticised

Nationwide Produce managing director Tim O'Malley criticised the obstacles in the way of Potato Council levy payers seeking to overturn the current funding arrangement.

Since becoming part of the AHDB in 2008, the council is only subject to a levy payer ballot if five per cent - around 150 levy payers - request it. But the council will not reveal levy payers' contact details, citing data protection law.

Since 2008, there is no longer a statutory obligation for a ballot at least every five years on the funding arrangements. The last such ballot was in 2004.

O'Malley said: "I am not for rushing head-long into a ballot." But he is seeking the backing of at least 150 levy payers "to kick-start the debate".


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