Comment: Brian Pack proves himself the right man for tough tasks
I HAVE always thought highly of Brian Pack. He is a first-class thinker and a consummate communicator. During his time in charge of the ANM Group, the press would be presented with an annual report that was pretty well wall-to-wall good news.
Let us gloss over the fact that some of the company’s diversifications carried out in boom times have now had to be closed down or largely written off. I was there and did not question the rationale of some of the moves, so I would hold my hand up and say mea culpa.
(Unfortunately I must have been off school the day the Latin teacher told the class the plural of that admission, so I cannot tell you what the-then ANM board should have said.)
And then after his time as chief executive of ANM, Brian was seen charming hundreds of farmers as the Scottish Government asked him to come up with a Scottish position for reform of the Common Agricultural Policy, which will see a redistribution of the support cash from Europe.
I attended several of those meetings and he did state there would be financial winners and losers in the exercise, which is still grinding inexorably through the corridors of Brussels. Such was his amiable way of imparting this scenario that apart from an astute few from the livestock-rich areas in the south-west and North-east of the country, everyone at those meetings seemed to think the losers’ tag referred to the people around and not to them.
And so having carried this message around the country without the peasants revolting, he was given his latest task: being the “tsar” who will sweep away all the red tape strangling the industry.
The appointment was made almost half a year ago, when the Scottish Government came under a bit of criticism from the sheep industry about the level of paperwork that was clogging up their offices.
The Scottish Government does not like criticism, and the appointment of good guy Pack was an excellent way to silence the critics.
I did not see the letter from the Scottish Government asking him to take on the task but I would guess it would go along the lines of:
“Dear Brian, Thanks for agreeing to do this. As mentioned in our phone call, there is no urgency to come out with any recommendations. You could pencil in June 2013 as a completion date; it would make a fine announcement at the Highland Show that year. As you know as long as you are on the case, we can deflect any criticism of inaction.
“PS: I have enclosed a copy of the report former National Farmers’ Union boss Richard McDonald did on cutting red tape down in England. He came up with more than 200 areas where red tape could be reduced and when, in the long distant future, you are writing your report, you might consider a few of those.”
And this brings us up to last week when at a very well-organised, well attended and wet Scotsheep, the first public pronouncements were made on the red tape review.
To describe the reaction as underwhelming would be putting it mildly. Some may have been put off by the title of the report. It was far from short and snappy: Doing better: The Scoping Report for the Initiative to Reduce Red Tape in Agriculture.
As I understand it, there will now be an electronic conversation with farmers, who will detail where they think paperwork can be reduced.
Let us ignore the fact that, by using the internet as the main method of communication, those who are not computer literate will be excluded from this so-called conversation.
As anyone connected to farming will tell you, it would have been far more effective to sit down in the café of any auction market with a little sign up saying “tell us how to reduce the bumf you have to deal with”. That would have produced a fairly direct response from the farmers, plus hauliers and auctioneers passing by.
However, it looks as if the computer-based process has been decided on, and we will now wait until the middle of next year to find out the outcome of the review.
In the meantime, I would suggest that, as a matter of routine good governance, any Scottish Government worth its salt should be looking at every avenue to reduce its spending and if this includes less paperwork, the solution is within their own management.
This would also save a good man such as Pack for other more useful exercises in the industry.
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