Attendees and apologies
- Director of Agriculture and Rural Economy (acting)
- Martin Kennedy
Items and actions
Welcome and introductions
In light of apologies from Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and Islands, Director of Agriculture and Rural Economy stepped in as co-chair.
Minutes from previous meeting
Chair invited members to submit any required changes to the Secretariat via email and there were no substantive issues raised at the meeting.
Chair welcomed the update on conditionality measures and said he looked forward to the dissemination of the options list in early course. That sentiment was echoed by members, particularly given the Government’s commitment to co-design. Scottish Government (SG) noted their appreciation of members’ continued engagement. Officials caveated that the list requires some further development relating to delivery mechanisms.
Academic Advisory Panel (AAP) update
Chair introduced Professor Mat Williams (MW) to provide update from the last meeting of the AAP.
The AAP’s focus was on the ‘Testing Actions for Sustainable Farming’ (Track 2) element of the National Test Programme (NTP) and that was broken down into selection of participants and actions that those participants will undertake.
Selection of participants
The AAP held a broad discussion on the topic of how participants would be sampled and noted the following would be critical:
- ensuring the cohort of participants is truly representative
- a proactive selection process which recognises the starting point of participants to increase policy effectiveness and includes those already on the journey
- not excluding additional participants should there be interest from more than the 1500 planned
- an effective and varied communications approach to reach a wide array of people and a broad range of farm sizes
The AAP suggested that consideration be given to cluster sampling around regions to look at spatial connections and gains at landscape scale, but did recognise that this may not be feasible and could potentially limit or impede the process given the tight timescales.
Actions participants will undertake
In terms of actions, the AAP was broadly supportive of the robust approach proposed, the framework, selection etc and discussed:
- the need to understand existing activity and the barriers as to why suggested measures haven’t been already taken up in the past given the potential for increased productivity and reduced costs
- linkages to capital investment and how we can be pragmatic, thinking of the SG’s value for money commitments as per the Scottish Public Finance Manual
- officials involved in handling the questionnaire must consider how to ensure accuracy of the data being provided by farmers and, linked to that, incentivising the provision of high quality data will be crucial Consideration must also be given to obtaining information on the broader household
- the “menu of options” approach was welcomed but should include proposals that see collaboration between farmers and crofters on a regional scale
- finally, market pressures are inescapable and carbon and biodiversity credits were given as an example of demands from further up the supply chain
In relation to the AAP’s forthcoming meetings and workplan, suggestions from the Board as to what it could usefully discuss would be welcomed, but meantime the Board were invited to note that the AAP’s next meeting will focus on food security (defining what it means), land use (e.g. peatland, woodland, bioenergy) and the positive externalities of agriculture (promoting the often intangible importance of local economy and communities).
Chair touched on cluster sampling, concurring that it may slow down or complicate the process but that it would ultimately prove useful in linking farms together. Other members also spoke positively about clustering, mentioning the landscape scale within the Vision for Agriculture. It was discussed that it would be useful to identify and engage businesses with similar characteristics in the same geographical location.
Chair also referenced the positive externalities of agriculture, highlighting the work already done on this by some of the Farmer-led Groups so duplication of effort should be avoided. Members noted that positive externalities go wider than agriculture and the rural economy, including education, healthcare and infrastructure, so the process should not be limited to those directly involved in agriculture, and care should be taken to avoid unintended adverse consequences on those externalities.
Further discussion followed on understanding such positives and how these findings would shape our work and influence payments with acknowledgment of the intangibility of detailing the socio-economic benefits in this regard other than to say it’s of vital importance. In addition, we should be mindful of the fact that many farmers and crofters serve other valuable roles within communities in their day-to-day lives. Whatever policy changes are made, future policy must not counteract the good work that many are already doing.
On the statistical validity of the sample, the importance of being clear about what is done with the data when collected (both qualitative and quantitative) was stressed as this will undoubtedly build the public’s confidence in what comes next in relation to the robustness of the design of Track 2.
Officials welcomed this discussion as a useful component of the co-design design process and confirmed that they should be in a position to provide further information at the next ARIOB meeting in July.
Future Agriculture Bill and consultation process
The purpose of this enabling Bill is to deliver on the Vision, doing so in consideration of legal obligations and appropriate use of public funds. The Bill will outline powers to allow Scottish Ministers to do that. However, it will not set down specific conditions, such as payment rates and/or conditionality, other than what is legally obliged (e.g. Fair Work, Equalities): this will follow as part of the secondary legislation process. This approach will ensure that flexibility in finalising such detail exists to allow Ministers to deal with changing markets and scientific advice and will form the basis of the forthcoming consultation. Chair touched on food production as an example area where such flexibility is required to adapt to potentially changing circumstances.
Officials talked through the current list of powers relating to the Bill and how the consultation will emphasise how these powers deliver the core values and principles of the Vision. The consultation will be launched in the late Summer and, in light of the tight timescales and internal review/clearance processes previously mentioned, officials will try and reflect ARIOB feedback as much as possible, but advised that it is for Ministers to sign-off the final document.
To support the consultation, an accompanying evidence and analysis pack is under development. This will be published to demonstrate the detail and decision-making process which underpins the Vision.
Officials concurred with AAP comments relating to communications and will ensure that the consultation and the new Bill are presented as a clear follow-on to both the Vision and the Farmer-led Groups’ Reports. Further, by the time the consultation is published inviting contributions from the whole of Scotland, the Government will have launched Track 1 and Track 2 of NTP; be in receipt of completed user surveys; and will be in a position to present the results of last year’s agriculture consultation to the sector. All this will demonstrate the steps along an iterative process informed and using evidence provided by the industry .
“Journey” messaging will continue, mapping that to enabling powers and setting those out in a suitable and accessible way to the audience. The aim is to communicate beyond the typical set of stakeholders to less often heard voices . That will be coupled with making sure this is more than a straightforward consultation, including roadshows and online events, and planning such activity from what we’ve learned from the favoured platforms of farmers and crofters such as social media groups, traditional media publications and area offices.
Officials stressed the ask of the ARIOB is to ensure that the language of the questions are clear and reflect the breadth of the topic, demonstrating how this Bill will deliver the Vision for Agriculture, including assisting in the drafting potential consultation questions. There is a rigorous process to go through involving legal, accessibility and other reviews and revisions before the consultation can be presented to Parliament, so the Board were cautioned that what is being developed in collaboration with them just now may not necessarily be contained in the final version. Sign-off of the consultation document will ultimately be for Scottish Ministers.
A final point was made by co-Chair that while the commitment at the last ARIOB meeting was to share a summarised version of the consultation document, the Cabinet Secretary is keen to involve the Board as trusted collaborators and so more comprehensive draft documents were provided in that spirit of co-design. The Board were keen to note that they were cognisant of their trusted position in the process and confirmed their understanding of the confidential nature of the task at this stage.
Tight timescales mean that the Board are being asked to provide any and all feedback on the draft consultation papers by the end of June.
One member suggested that a section on food production would be helpful, particularly as statistics relating to production are already being produced by the likes of QMS, and officials took that point on board.
Another member was unsure what “flexibility” means in this context and how much there is. Similarly, terminology such as “Fair Work First” was not something most farmers would be familiar with so an explanation of those was required, and perhaps giving examples – a Whole Farm Approach was cited as something that would be good to set out what that might mean. On that latter point, officials noted that there had been some previous discussion at the ARIOB about the Whole Farm Approach and what it ought to include/exclude, so officials intend to revert to the ARIOB for further co-development on that.
There appeared to be some duplications of questions – or at least it was unclear where the questions were different. A plea was also made for consistent language and more careful consideration to the wording of the questions so that they did not subtly influence the response, and that they were explicit about the type and content of answer sought.
A concern was raised about timescale slippage and that the farming community remain anxious about a change of support system already, never mind if that change is delayed. Officials cited the Bute House commitment that the future Agriculture Bill will be laid in 2023 and new system in place by 2026.
Further concern was discussed in terms of the level of interest and willingness of the sector to engage. There is a lot of forthcoming change in short order and the need to simplify and clarify messaging avoiding duplication and jargon is critical so as not to reach a saturation point amongst an already cynical industry. It was commented that the consultation is highly technical and needs to show people what Scotland will look like in 10-20 years’ time. The point was made that people are finding it difficult to envisage the desired future and it would be helpful if the consultation could spell that out. Officials reiterated that the point of this consultation is solely around creating the enabling powers to administer the more detailed elements of the Vision, rather than setting out the detail now, but the Board urged a middle ground that communicates the ideal of what is planned so that those completing the consultation can understand what this piece of work will facilitate.
Officials are hopeful that the evidence pack will address these concerns, pointing to the rationale behind proposals and not duplicating supply chain schemes that a lot of businesses are involved with. However, while welcoming robust evidence, the Board did note that requiring farmers to refer to a potentially lengthy and dense document to help inform their responses to the consultation would not be helpful.
The link with the supply chain is a key element and farmers will want to know that they aren’t going to have to try and satisfy two masters: supply chain and government.
It was raised that an obvious omission was the topic of biodiversity, or the interaction between the Bill and other ecosystems markets. The criticality of these aligning and not overlapping or undermining each other was stressed, and a request made to share the draft paper with the SG ecosystems group for a review. Officials confirmed that they are discussing these issues internally with the relevant policy officials and would be happy for the paper to be shared with that group and discuss any specific concerns.
The correct use of personal data generated by the consultation was stressed and officials assured the Board that the Scottish Government is fully compliant with its responsibilities under GDPR and all data gathered would be managed appropriately.
Any other business
Chair reminded the Board that the next meeting of the ARIOB will be on 28 July within the Carnegie Conference Centre in Dunfermline and looks forward to further details on measures for conditionality. It was agreed to invite the Policy Development Group to the meeting to help speed up the decision-making process.
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