UFU Comment on Budget
Friday, 2 February, 2018
The Ulster Farmers’ Union has warned that plans for the 2018/2020 Northern Ireland budget would have a severe impact on the agrifood sector, which is a key driver of the local economy and the source of thousands of jobs across Northern Ireland.
Responding to a NI Department of Finance outlook document UFU president, Barclay Bell, said that while he recognised the importance of funding for areas like health and education the agrifood industry faced unique challenges in the short and long term because of the uncertainties surrounding Brexit.
“As an organisation we represent almost 11,500 farming families. Along with agriculture, the food industry employs 100,000 people in jobs well spread across urban and rural areas. It is worth more than £4.5 billion a year. That makes it a cornerstone of the local economy, but in the face of the challenges it faces success cannot be taken for granted”, said the UFU president.
The UFU says it is particularly concerned by plans that would see the Department of Agriculture Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) budget cut significantly. It says that given the limited options for reducing costs it is inevitable cuts on the scale suggested would hit front line services and long-term investments to improve the industry's competitive position.
“I am concerned that our ability to tackle the scourge of bovine TB for both farmers and taxpayers could be compromised. We could also see environmental programmes scaled back and a land use management scheme suffer because of lack of resources. This would undermine the thinking in the Going for Growth strategy that farming efficiency and productivity drive a successful food industry and its’ potential to add more jobs to those already created,” said Mr Bell.
The UFU president added that while the increase in net capital contributions in the budget plan was welcome, these could not be delivered if budget cuts means the structures needed to do so were undermined by a reduction in staff working directly with farmers. Mr Bell also warned that staff cuts could undermine the continued success of DAERA in becoming the first agriculture department in the UK to be in a position to make much needed support payments to farmers.