Wales must not be placed at a competitive disadvantage in any future approaches to agricultural support, rural council leaders in Wales have warned.
At a meeting in North Wales of the WLGA Rural Forum (comprised of nine of the 22 local authorities in Wales) to consider its response to Welsh Government’s ‘Brexit and our Land’ consultation, leaders agreed that any changes introduced must not place land managers in Wales at a competitive disadvantage in relation to the other nations of the UK and the rest of the EU. They also agreed that a minimum transition period of seven years, from 2021, would be needed to successfully implement any changes. The Welsh Government’s consultation proposes a transition away from basic payments to two new schemes – an economic resilience scheme and a public goods scheme – following Brexit.
The response – considered by the WLGA Rural Forum and subsequently endorsed by all 22 council leaders - sets out ten key areas that need to be addressed before the two new schemes can be discussed in detail. In addition to the need to avoid Wales being put at a competitive disadvantage, other key areas in the consultation response include:
- The importance of food production needs greater recognition – there should be a stronger focus on support for food production and greater attention to the issue of food security
- There must be protection for small and tenant farmers – Smaller-scale agricultural operations and those with environmental/productivity constraints are at particular risk from the proposals. There should be protection for those actively farming such land, such as upland farms, and how specific support can ensure the continued viability of tenant farms
- Rural development support is vital – at present it is unclear what support is going to be available in future
- A Welsh language impact assessment is needed – the farming communities are a heartland of the Welsh language and the impact of the proposed changes needs to be better understood.
Councillor Dyfrig Siencyn (Gwynedd), Joint Spokesperson for Rural Affairs said:
“The Forum understands the need for – and potential benefits of - a new system tailored to the needs of Wales. However, we are concerned that the changes could be damaging for rural economies and communities if risks are not clearly identified in advance and appropriate safeguards put in place. The changes are not something to be rushed in the current climate of uncertainty around Brexit.”
Councillor Rosemarie Harris (Powys), Joint Spokesperson for Rural Affairs added:
“Farming families are the backbone of many rural communities, providing stability and support for social networks. It is really important that we develop new arrangements working with them and their representative bodies. There has been ongoing dialogue via the Cabinet Secretary’s Roundtable but that dialogue needs to continue and their voices need to be heard – as do ours as the elected representatives of local communities.”
The WLGA’s response to the Welsh Government’s ‘Brexit and our Land’ consultation can be seen in full on www.wlga.wales/brexit .