Defra has consistently dismissed industry concerns that its constrained manpower will be stretched to manage the Brexit workload on top of its day-to-day duties. But now ATN learns that senior Defra officials are seeking industry help in adding to the Department’s policy-making strength.
Along with most Whitehall departments, Defra numbers were reduced in the Coalition’s austerity programme, with numbers cut by around 20% since 2010. It is also reported to have lost experienced staff to the new EU Exit and International Trade departments.
Defra minister George Eustice told ATN at last year’s Livestock Event, shortly after the EU Referendum, that the cuts would not affect the Department’s ability to meet the Brexit Challenge. He said there were still plenty of talented policy officials and experts to draw from, adding that there would be less requirement to report to Brussels on the UK’s compliance with European directives, so freeing resources to focus effort on the new policy.
Defra secretary of state Andrea Leadsom told January’s Oxford Conference that Defra had sufficient resource to staff eight EU Exit work streams in addition to performing its routine activities. But the chairman’s straw poll of the audience revealed only one hand believing that Defra was adequately resourced for Brexit- that of her deputy Mr Eustice.
Defra officials are now asking industry contacts and trade associations to publicise and pass on their search for up to 25 new two-year Defra policy adviser posts in food, farming and animal health. The job remits are to scope and design a new system for supporting farmers to improve their productivity and the environment; to prepare for negotiations for EU and global market access for the UK food and drink sector; and to support the long term growth of businesses throughout the food chain; in addition to developing plant and animal health and animal welfare policy.
But the salaries on offer only range from £28,000-£31,600 in the South West and Yorkshire to £31,300-£35,350 for inner London postings.
No news either on the government’s 2015 manifesto commitment for a 25 year food and farming policy – Defra ministers have conspicuously failed to mention this in media interviews in the run up to next week’s general election. But Mrs Leadsom promised the Oxford Conference a green paper on this policy, while six months earlier, Mr Eustice said a “near final draft” of the policy was being worked on.