Following the publication of responses to the government’s request for views on the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB) and recommendations about the future of the levy body, a group of growers is organising a ballot of horticultural levy payers.
The group, known as the ‘AHDB Review Petitioners’ is led by Lincolnshire flower grower Simon Redden and vegetable growers John Bratley and Peter Thorold. They believe that, ‘the AHDB structure rests on an outdated system that might have been justified at the time when it was adopted, but that is now an anomaly that taxes us growers for its activities and policies that are not accountable to us.’
They say that growers have been denied a ballot on the AHDB over the whole ten years of its existence, and so are organising their own. “It is clearly undemocratic for the AHDB to continue to impose itself on us without representation and yet regardless of our wishes and needs,” said the group. “We are not satisfied by the top-down consultation process that has taken place so far. We believe that it is improper for the AHDB, which is a quango responsible only to the Secretary of State, to have the statutory power to levy growers and to initiate criminal proceedings against those who do not or refuse to make returns or to pay the levy.
It is fundamentally wrong to criminalise growers for failing to file their returns and this should immediately cease to be a criminal offence. This is taxation without representation and is an abuse of democracy as we know it.”
As well as organising a ballot on the future of AHDB, the group is calling for the threshold at which growers pay the levy to be raised to £150,000 (it has not been raised since the mid-1990s) with growers being exempt from paying levy on the first £150,000 of their turnover. They are also calling for an immediate 50 per cent reduction on this year’s levy for the horticulture and potato sectors.
The group adds that the recent report published by Defra “lacked authority” as it received only 901 valid replies, of which just 684 were levy-paying farmers, producers and growers, amounting to less than 1 per cent of an estimated 150,000 eligible farmers and growers. “Levy payers from the horticulture sector were just 21 per cent of all respondents, amounting to only 143 from that sector,” explained the group. “The potatoes sector received just 75 responses (11 per cent). Such numbers are too few to provide reliable conclusions and highlights the urgent need for a growers’ ballot as soon as possible.
“The results are demonstrably not enough to deduce the conclusion that an overwhelming majority of levy-payers are in favour of a statutory levy, especially when the survey showed a majority (55 per cent) of respondents favoured a voluntary levy or system of charging for actual services. Without a true and honest mandate from levy-payers and proper representation on its board of levy-paying growers, the AHDB will not thrive and is destined for ultimate failure. That is why we are funding this ballot.”
The ballot is expected to be delivered to growers during the first two weeks of July, but due to issues with the database that is available, the AHDB Review Petitioners believe that some growers may not receive one. “Any levy-paying grower who does not receive a ballot paper should get in touch with us at once using the email address firstname.lastname@example.org said the spokesman.”