Alun Davies, Deputy Minister for Agriculture, Food, Fisheries and European Programmes
I welcome the publication today of Gareth Williams’ Working Smarter report which recommends a way forward towards a more simplified and improved way of working for both regulators and farmers in Wales. Gareth is to be commended for tackling this issue head-on and for managing to propose a range of workable solutions to address the most burdensome regulations and processes.
Farming is arguably unique in terms of its level of reliance on public money; largely in the form of CAP support. Regulations, controls and accountability is the inevitable price paid for receipt of public funds, but it should not automatically follow that the regulatory process must be complex to understand, present an obstacle to business development and cause undue stress on the recipient of that support.
Gareth has identified many examples of good practice where regulations have been shaped to accommodate Wales’ specific circumstances and where customer communication and engagement has been very supportive which aids compliance with the rules. The Farm Liaison Service, Farming Connect and Divisional Office Front Office support services are highlighted as exemplary in this respect and we now need to build on this successful approach.
Unfortunately, there are also many shortcomings in the regulatory process that is implemented by Government and its agencies including poor customer communications, repeated inspections, replicate recording and barriers to livestock trading and to farm diversification. It is these issues that we are now going to address and I want to do this working in true partnership with the farming industry.
I want to develop a shared and much improved understanding of essential regulations and target inspections and controls where they are most needed. Farmers who are acting responsibly and fully within the regulations will, where regulation permits, be rewarded with fewer checks and controls.
Gareth has identified a need for closer working between Government, farmers, the farming unions and agencies. I welcome his recommendation to use advisory groups who will focus on key issues and report their findings and recommendations directly to me.
Working Smarter details 74 recommendations which I intend to take forward. The first 20 have a challenging delivery deadline of the summer recess but I am confident that through partnership working we will make significant progress and begin to replace complexity with simplicity, confusion with clarity and regulatory enforcement with shared responsibility and action.
I will now ensure that there is a clear and transparent process to implement the findings of this report. I will lead a debate on the report in the National Assembly on Tuesday 7th February and will host a meeting for stakeholders and partners 2 days later on Thursday 9th February. I am also very pleased that Gareth Williams has agreed to review the Welsh Government’s implementation of his report. I hope that these measures will reassure Members of my commitment to taking this process forward, to being thorough and ensuring that accountability is built into this programme.