Walsh hits out as wool board spends £50,000 on detectives

MORE than ten years on from his original breaking of the British Wool Marketing Board’s monopoly, relations between Aidan Walsh and the board have not improved.

Walsh, owner of Texacloth, Naas, Ireland, claimed yesterday that the board spent 50,000 a year to monitor his activities and might be behind rumours that he was not buying wool this year. He said yesterday: "I am fed up with these rumours. Advertisements will appear in the farming press this weekend and I have told my staff to go out and buy twice as much as last year."

That could be more than two million kilos, although how much Walsh buys each year in the UK, mainly in Wales and Scotland, has been difficult to establish. What is known is that more than 90 per cent of the UK wool clip - last year just under 37 million kilos - still goes to the board at a fixed price for a wide range of grades.

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Until Walsh challenged the legislation in the early 1990s, the wool board - now the only remaining marketing board for any kind of farm produce - had a statutory duty to handle all British wool and sell it, in all its huge variety, as well as possible over the year.

Walsh scores by concentrating on a few specific grades of wool and paying a spot price on delivery.

The wool board now pays in two instalments, with a balance for last year’s clip due when the first cheque is issued for 2004 wool.

But board headquarters and Rog Wood, board member for south of Scotland, admitted yesterday that "about 50,000" was spent on private detectives to monitor wool buying and selling in the UK that was not handled by the board.

Wood said: "We have a duty to the wool marketing scheme, and other buyers. Texacloth can buy as long as the wool goes to Ireland and they comply with UK law, including that on VAT. Reports made to us are given to the wool trade to show that this buyer is playing by the rules."

A spokesperson at wool board headquarters said: "We spend about 50,000 each year on monitoring, and making sure that wool trading is conducted lawfully. But by no means all of that is spent watching Texacloth.

"We can see what it is doing from how much wool comes into our depots.

"It is worth pointing out that we have had several large producers who formerly sold to Texacloth come back to us."

Where board and Walsh do agree is that the market price for wool is low and trading conditions difficult. Walsh said: "The market has changed very little in the past year and it’s governed by currency.

"If it was not for the trade with China, which keeps ticking over, wool would be almost worthless and farmers might be advised to burn it."

As well as low prices, the wool board’s concern is that a continued decline in sheep numbers - meaning less wool - will put more pressure on its fixed costs per kilo handled.