Alun Davies, Deputy Minister for Agriculture, Food, Fisheries and European Programmes
In August of last year I asked Gareth Williams, as my independent adviser, to consider and report back to me on whether the regulatory framework that governs agriculture in Wales was measured and appropriate. In December Gareth presented his findings in a report containing 74 recommendations. I accepted all 74 recommendations with the majority accepted in full and a small number accepted in part. The Working Smarter report and the Welsh Government’s response were published on 31st January and a debate followed on 7 February in the National Assembly.
In February of this year, Defra published its full response to the Macdonald recommendations on better regulation in farming in England. Working Smarter and Macdonald share many common themes and consequently my officials are working closely with the Macdonald implementation team in Defra.
It is now time to reflect on progress. I am pleased to report that a number of recommendations are complete while many more are being progressed and well on the way to completion. Gareth outlined a demanding delivery timetable - twenty recommendations were to be delivered before this summer’s recess. Some are still in progress while other recommendations, timetabled for much later delivery, are already complete. This was inevitable as delivery of some recommendations proved more complex than first thought once implementation commenced, but at the same time others proved easier to deliver than was first anticipated.
On 3 July, I announced the outcome of my Glastir Stocktake. Much of that work has a direct read-across to Working Smarter, including the abolition of the Glastir application window, simplified processes, improved communications and the re-naming of the different elements of the Glastir scheme to help the farming community better understand and engage with the process.
Effective communication is a vital part of everything we do. The Working Smarter report emphasised the importance of good communication and we have much work to do to improve our performance. I am expanding the Farm Liaison Service as Gareth Williams recommended. The process is underway to recruit additional staff and this will help us improve geographical coverage providing more farmers with easy access to first class information and guidance.
Written communications to customers will improve following the issuing of new staff guidance advising the avoidance wherever possible of technical terminology and the use of jargon, as well as introducing glossaries as standard in scheme documents to aid understanding. Gareth was shocked, and so was I, at the near 3,000 pages of information that regulators might potentially send to farmers every year and we are working to reduce this; the complete SAF guidance pack will no longer routinely issue to all customers every year. This is in response to the wishes of farmers who have said to us that we should only advise them on changes.
The Welsh Government website now includes a helpful and easy to follow checklist to ease concerns and ensure that farmers are able to prepare properly for a cross compliance inspection. Through working side by side with other regulators and the Better Regulation Delivery Office, we are planning to enhance and develop this approach for all farm inspections.
The excellent support delivered to farmers via our Farming Connect Programme which includes on-farm knowledge transfer events, will now include ‘mock inspection’ events.
A programme of livestock market visits is planned for this coming autumn to disseminate information and guidance on the management of animal identification (sheep EID). This will supplement the approach we are increasingly taking whereby well received services such as the Farm Liaison Service take their excellent services out to where farmers are; livestock markets and village halls for example.
Single Payment Scheme (SPS) customers will in future receive an explanatory letter when their payment does not arrive at the expected time due to an outstanding query so that they are able to plan their finances accordingly.
The Welsh Government’s first annual farming conference will take place in May of next year and will be an open invitation to the farming industry to hear first hand how farming policy has developed and to question me and partner organisations on our performance, as well as to offer positive input on future priorities.
The development of our on-line services is moving forward apace; the first prototype of the service was demonstrated to the User Working Group which includes farmers and farmer representative bodies in May. The Single Application Form (SAF) element will go-live in 2014 and bring greater accuracy and make completing the application form much easier for farmers.
In his report, Gareth highlighted the need for a consistent approach to farm inspections across all farming regulators. In the spring we delivered a leadership programme and business workshop involving lead officials from all farm regulatory bodies. The workshops included farm visits and a plenary session with farmers, so that regulators could experience regulation from the farmer’s perspective.
We are working with regulators to develop a skills and competency framework, supported by a comprehensive training programme, which will ensure that farmers consistently receive a professional service from all regulators. This I believe will help to overcome customer’s fears, suspicion and sometimes resentment of the regulatory process.
A Task & Finish Group will be working this autumn to rationalise farm inspections and record keeping. It is increasingly apparent that there is some very good practice out there which needs to be shared more widely among regulators.
The Government is joined-up in its approach to Working Smarter. Building on the success of a TB passport sticker scheme in helping farmers to inform their cattle purchases, John Griffiths, Minister for Environment and Sustainable Development, is preparing to review Pre-Movement Testing exemptions with key stakeholders during the autumn of 2012.
The County Parish Holding (CPH) project is advising on improvements to the system of CPH number allocation and will remove the many complexities and confusions including Single Occupancy Agreements (SOA) and Cattle Tracing System Links (CTS). This complexity has contributed on occasions to customers inadvertently breaking the rules.
The Chief Veterinary Officer for Wales has, in consultation with industry stakeholders and Defra, been considering options for simplifying the current 6-day standstill rules. In particular quarantine arrangements may provide an opportunity to replace the current derogations without increasing the risk of spreading disease. This is proving to be complex work. It is essential that we do not increase the risks of disease outbreaks and their rapid spread and we must also have an alignment of policy between Wales and England to maintain the very many cross border livestock movements that occur each year with the minimum of disruption.
I have taken the decision to develop EIDCymru, an electronic movement reporting service for Wales incorporating an individual sheep database. I am committed to delivering a system that is compatible with developments in England and Scotland, whilst also supporting Welsh Lamb as a brand.
Also in John Griffiths area of responsibility, an Independent Advisory Group submitted its report in June on the delivery of planning policy in Wales and their report will help inform a White Paper and subsequent planning bill. A second report, ‘Delivery of Planning in Special Designated Areas’ will also inform this process. John Griffiths intends to publish these reports in the autumn. Standardising the planning application process has progressed well with legislation introduced on 30 April to introduce the use of the National Standard Application Form (1 APP). Guidance to support these changes to regulation has also been issued. A best practice guide has been produced to advise local planning authorities and applicants on effective pre-application discussions.
In support of Technical Advice Note (TAN) 6 Planning for Sustainable Rural Communities a practice guide on One Planet Development is currently being prepared, and will be published in the Autumn. This will sit alongside the Rural Enterprise Dwelling Practice Guide, which was published in December last year. TAN 6 also requires local authorities to monitor Rural Enterprise Dwellings, and a summary of these statistics will be published on the Welsh Governments web site later in the summer.
We are amending our policy development checks and balances across the Welsh Government, including our regulatory impact assessments, to ensure that the administrative burden on customers is fully considered.
Officials working with the Countryside & Community Research Institute and Wales Rural Observatory have completed a pilot study on alternative segmentation of the farming industry which includes an interpretation of attitudes and perceptions as drivers of change. Further work is planned with the ultimate goal of targeted and bespoke policies that are better fitted to customer groups and types.
Gareth Williams emphasised the importance of closer partnership working with the industry to develop policy, and that task and finish groups with direct communication links to Ministers would be an essential part of this process. A number of these groups are now in place and working hard, including ‘On-line applications’, ‘Livestock ID’, ‘Commons Act 2006 Advisory Group’; and more groups are planned as, and when, required.
In conclusion, I have asked Gareth Williams to return this autumn to provide me with his independent view of the progress we have made towards better regulation in Wales. From the Welsh Government’s perspective, I believe that the recommendations are being implemented as intended and that milestones are being achieved. It has become apparent that in respect of a number of recommendations, there is not an end point but instead a progressive change process and the opportunity for ongoing continuous improvement. The direction of travel must be right and the momentum sustained. All 74 recommendations are annexed to this statement together with an update on progress against each individual recommendation.