Publication - Minutes

Agriculture Reform Oversight Implementation Board minutes: 12 October 2021

Published: 9 Nov 2021
Date of meeting: 12 Oct 2021
Date of next meeting: 27 Oct 2021

Minutes of the meeting of the Agriculture Reform Oversight Implementation Board, held on 12 October 2021.

Published:
9 Nov 2021
Agriculture Reform Oversight Implementation Board minutes: 12 October 2021

Attendees and apologies

  • Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and Islands (co-chair)    
  • Martin Kennedy (co-chair)    
     

Items and actions

Welcome and introductions 

Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and Islands welcomed members to this third meeting of the ARIOB and thanked them for the time and commitment all were making to contribute to the significant task ahead. 

Minutes of previous meetings and actions arising 

The minutes of the previous meeting were not ready and will be reviewed at the meeting of 27 October.

The Board were updated on the progress of actions arising.  

Pilots and next steps – updated proposals 

Monitoring and evaluation 

These were presented consecutively. The recently established Agriculture Policy Development Group, comprising external stakeholders in addition to SG policy and operational officials, had been asked to update the proposed package of measures to scale them up, make them more ambitious and draw them together more cohesively.

The Board were advised that the Group had focussed on the package for announcement pre-COP26 and proposed a twin-track approach: a universal proposal, designed to involve everyone; and an integrated pilot.

Officials noted that these are high level proposals and detail will be worked through a co-design approach, but per the first meeting of the Board, there are certain legal, regulatory and budgetary requirements that will need to be adhered to.

The Board were also reminded that it is essential to protect the current service, and that ambition will have to be weighed against what is feasible for 2022. The current IT platform will be used so it will be a case of enhancing and updating that to deliver, at least in the short term. Required changes to IT and support systems should be made using the best evidence so it will be critical to understand what the changes are intended to do and how they will be delivered and measured.

Evaluation and monitoring

Three key points were set out: 

  • the importance of impartial monitoring and evaluation so lessons can be learned. Not just what works at farm level, but what also reduces emissions and improves business performance
  • pilots need to be designed in a way so that the impacts can be understood.  For example, if left open to businesses to decide whether to participate, it will likely be those most keen to change or already in the process of doing so, and not be particularly representative of the industry Scotland-wide
  • effective monitoring and evaluation takes time and money. Deadlines are extremely tight but it is still essential the detail is planned out properly and that some of the budget is set aside to fund analysis of the pilots

Discussion

Opening up for discussion, co-Chair asked the Board whether the proposals met the ask of ambition and scale to support behavioural change.

Some were unconvinced that the proposals were sufficiently ambitious and would deliver the transformational change sought by the industry, however, there was a recognition that the constraints set out by officials did put some limits on what could be done in the immediate term and that this at least was a first step. 

On that basis, the Board endorsed the proposal submitted and concurred that further aspects could follow on.

There was agreement that adequate educational and training support should be in place, recognising that the scale should not be underestimated and that in areas such as Highlands and Islands where there are numerous small businesses, additional pressure will be placed on scarce advisory services. 

Evaluation and monitoring

There was a consensus that gathering data to evaluate performance of the pilots will be key, and some discussion around whether there was already data gathered via the BES which could help inform baselining etc. However, officials advised that the data under discussion does not exist and one of the key purposes of the pilot proposals is to collect data.  

The Board agreed that the pilots should be developed in a way that ensures accurate identification of data needs, and implement effective monitoring and evaluation procedures, and it confirmed that there should be funding allocated.

Mandating and funding participation

There was discussion about whether the proposals should be mandatory for all participants and if they should be funded. Some felt that they constituted good business practice so should be mandated without funding. It was pointed out that for some businesses the cost could be a significant proportion of their funding, and that these businesses would require additional financial assistance. A point was made that such businesses are likely to  deliver other benefits such as increased biodiversity levels on farm, and are often the mainstay of fragile local economies and communities, and as such should be supported.  

Co-chair noted that the important thing is to get as many businesses on the ladder as possible, so consideration should be given about how to support farmers and crofters to undertake this ask. There was an consensus that participation should be voluntary to begin with, with funding provided, but there should be a clear signal that the requirement will be mandatory in the future.

Expanding the proposal

There was some discussion about whether it would be feasible to adopt a truly “whole-farm approach” by expanding the proposal and increasing both budget and timescale to develop a flexible menu of options that would allow businesses to select what they would do for the additional funding package and be required to demonstrate they had met certain baseline requirements. 

There was some acceptance that there is insufficient capacity across the piece to properly develop, implement and support such an expanded proposal short-term but it was agreed that at the very least ambition and long-term thinking need to be signalled to the industry. 

Direction of travel

It was acknowledged that many businesses already undertaking the proposed activities will also be looking to hear what the direction of travel is and that it should be investigated how to help these businesses further.  

Vision

All agreed that a clear statement on the long-term direction of travel is needed urgently. The Chair confirmed she is keen to harness the industry’s ambition and ensure that the package of measures is equal to that.

The Chair undertook to share Government’s vision for agriculture support with the Board.

Agile approach

It was discussed that the key will be how the proposals for immediate activity integrate with the longer-term pilots which will be developed concurrently, and there was a plea to implement, learn, and refine on the go in order to effect rapid, responsive change.  

Integrated pilots

There was insufficient time to discuss the integrated pilots proposal at the meeting and attendees agreed to discuss offline.

The next meeting is on Wednesday 27 October at 09:00.