Scottish Ministers call for meaningful engagement from UK Government on issues of food security
Rural Affairs Secretary writes to Prime Minister.
The Rural Affairs Secretary Mairi Gougeon has written to the Prime Minister calling for detail of the announcements made by the UK Government this week. Ms Gougeon writes:
"It is vital...that we receive some more information about any funding announcements described in your letter this week to enable us to gauge the sufficiency, extent and implications of those announcements for the sector and to understand how these apply to Scottish agri-food producers and those of the other devolved governments."
The full text of the letter is below.
Rt Hon Rishi Sunak MP
CC: Rt Hon Therese Coffey MP
19 May 2023
UK GOVERNMENT PUBLIC LETTER TO BRITISH FARMERS AND FUNDING ANNOUNCEMENTS
I am writing about the announcements made, including funding announcements, in your public letter to farmers earlier this week, and following your Government’s recent Farm to Fork summit.
It is pleasing to see the UK Government now recognising the growing importance of, and shifts in attitude to, overall food security in this country but it is also important to acknowledge that this follows a series of significant shocks to the food and drink sector, from COVID-19 and Brexit. Those shocks have undoubtedly disrupted supply chains and created new barriers to trade.
As was confirmed by the Scottish Parliamentary debate on food security on 18th May, as much as we do to make food supply more sustainable and secure at all levels in Scotland, we do that with only a fraction of the powers, levers and funding that we need. I have written to UK Defra Ministers repeatedly about the range of issues impacting on the sector and to highlight to them the report of the Short-life Food Security and Supply Taskforce that the Scottish Government established together with industry about food security in March last year, in the immediate wake of the conflict in Ukraine. While the Taskforce recognised that the UK Government holds many of the levers to help sort many of the issues impacting on the sector, we have not received any meaningful engagement with UK Ministers about this so far. The rapid response by the Scottish Government in establishing the taskforce, and subsequently establishing a food security unit within the Scottish Government, has been important. It is disappointing that the focus your Government seems to be giving to this issue now, however laudable, has not been in more evidence, sooner.
In my view, it is extremely important and incumbent on us to work together constructively and in line with our Inter-Governmental relationship principles on these issues, to support the food and drink sector ably. It is vital, for example, that we receive some more information about any funding announcements described in your letter this week to enable us to gauge the sufficiency, extent and implications of those announcements for the sector and to understand how these apply to Scottish agri-food producers and those of the other devolved governments. A key question, for example, is whether this is new money as Scotland would clearly want to see its fair share if it is. Also, without that further information, and while any supports are welcome, I am not convinced these announcements will go far enough to mitigate the ongoing short- and long-term significant effects on the sector, including from labour and skills shortages and high input, including energy costs. While I am disappointed that Scottish Ministers were not invited to the Summit, I am ever the optimist and hope this is the start of a process that we can build on, with the full involvement of the devolved administrations, industry and other relevant parties.
I also note the principles described in your letter about future trade negotiations. Scottish Ministers of course recognise that trade has an important role to play in food supply, including economically, but again, we have repeatedly made clear (and in line with Scotland’s Vision for Trade) that these trade deals must be negotiated in a way that balances market access with protection of domestic producers. Scottish Ministers made those points to the UK Government repeatedly throughout the negotiation of the UK-Australia and New Zealand Trade Deals. The announcement of a set of principles now (and while on the face of it those appear to be a positive development) seem to come a little too late in the day and also provide further confirmation that those earlier trade deals were poorly negotiated by the UK Government. While we will wait to see the effect of these new principles in the negotiation of future arrangements, it is imperative that UK Ministers work together with, and actively listen to, Ministers from the devolved governments and industry to ensure that our agri-food producers across the whole of the UK are better protected going forward.
As many of these issues have a significant effect on Scotland’s economy and devolved matters, I believe that it is vital that Scottish Ministers are able to discuss the detail of the announcements made this week and in your open letter to farmers, with UK Ministers and as a priority, including at our next EFRA portfolio Inter-Ministerial Group meeting.
I am copying this letter to Richard Lochhead MSP, Minister for Small Business, Innovation and Trade; Vaughan Gething, Minister for the Economy; Lesley Griffiths, Minister for Rural Affairs and North Wales and Trefnydd in the Welsh Government; and to the Head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service.
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