Pack – merging agencies route to cutting red tape

Brian Pack presented interim report on red tape yesterday. Picture: Contributed
Brian Pack presented interim report on red tape yesterday. Picture: Contributed
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A SINGLE body created from a number of existing agencies such as Scottish Natural Heritage, the Crofting Commission, the Forestry Commission Scotland, together with existing government agricultural and environmental directorates has been suggested in a report looking into reducing red tape and bureaucracy in the rural sector.

Brian Pack, chair of the Doing Better Initiative interim report, published yesterday, said there could be substantial economies arising from such a move.

He accepted there would need to be more work investigating the feasibility of aggregating separate organisations into a single body but, in his view, it could make a considerable contribution to the rural sector.

He added that the new organisation would also take over farm and land management regulations from the Scottish Environment Protection Agency, local authorities and the still to be created new food body.

Lloyd Austin of RSPB Scotland, said: “If this is to be taken forward, we would wish to see issues such as the separation of the policy-making function and government and the independent enforcement function of agencies addressed.”

While Pack accepted that the single body might take some time to create, another suggestion – having an independent regulatory oversight body for agriculture – should, he said, be a priority, with a remit to co-ordinate and inform the regulation of Scottish agriculture

In total there are 72 recommendations in the interim report, which he hoped farmers, land managers and rural lobbying organisations would consider and respond to in the coming months before the report is finalised and presented to Scottish ministers.

Pack stressed that, so far, the government has had no input to the work of his small team, Professor Maggie Gill, David Mitchell and Bob Stubbs backed up by Steven Thomson of SRUC.

He also stressed that everyone who operated in the sector, including farmers, required to change their mindset when it came to dealing with bureaucracy, he stated.

While he was optimistic changes could be achieved at Scottish and farm level, he reckoned it would be more difficult to change the system in Europe. Having said that, he said the answer might lie in considering how the EU audit process worked.

He also said the current Scottish rural development programme has been too prescriptive, putting the industry into a straitjacket avoided by, for example, Ireland, who operate with far wider guidelines.

The report deals with many of the bugbears in farming, including the electronic identification of sheep where the recommendation is for a single data base which would be under the joint control of government and the industry. On the same issue, he recommends the government continues its campaign for single tagging only as there is no need to double tag. Yet another recommendation would see the number of on-farm sheep inspections reduced – this country caries out twice the minimum number required by Europe.

Land registration has also seen a number of farmers penalised in their single farm payments through mapping errors. The report recommends that the government pursues the EU for more leeway, bearing in mind the larger scale of Scottish farms. Pack referred to the largest single block of land in this country covering 44,000 hectares, with the leeway “only the size of a tennis court”.

For farmers operating in nitrate vulnerable zones, the report recommends a simplification of the calculations. Looking to the future of the scheme where there is a legal requirement to review the legislation on a regular basis, the report suggests a cost/benefit analysis is carried out on existing areas before any changes are made