Concerns raised by the NFU that official farm visits are poorly co-ordinated have been echoed in a new report released by the National Audit Office today.
The NAO estimates that during 2011 -12 nine seperate government bodies made a total of at least 114,000 visits to English farms. The cost of regulation represented around one tenth of an average farm's net profit.
The NAO found that Defra has made some progress in adopting the recommendations of the Farming Regulation Task Force. But it says the department will not “deliver the scale of change expected” and that farmers consider the rate of improvement to be slow.
The report also says Defra has not collected significant data to understand the scale, nature and effectiveness of farm oversight activity.
"The findings from the NAO vindicate our response to the Farming Regulation Task Force, in that many farm businesses believe poor co-ordination and the potential for duplication of inspection are systemic problems,” said NFU Deputy President Meurig Raymond.
“While we recognise some progress is being made, this report sets out a challenge for Defra to achieve stronger co-ordination among oversight bodies, improved intelligence sharing and collection, and to take account of farmers’ commitment to good practice to help reduce the burden on compliant businesses.
“Following a number of better regulation initiatives, agricultural businesses are looking for regulatory burdens to be lifted as soon as possible. We look forward to seeing how Defra responds and implements the key findings from this report and the Farming Regulation Task Force at a much faster pace.”
The NAO report also highlights the work of regional forums, jointly established by the NFU, as an example of best practice. These were set out to achieve closer links, better co-ordination and improved intelligence-sharing across regulators.
“We will continue to play a full role in supporting these forums to enable farmers to benefit from the spread of best practice and ensure inspections are more targeted. However these forums must work alongside other approaches to ensure there is more efficient and effective use of resources,” added Mr Raymond.
“Better regulation must be a responsibility across the whole of Defra, if a cohesive approach to implementation is to be achieved. Ultimately, we need to see a co-ordinated effort across Defra to free our farmers from the burdensome regulation that stifles their businesses and reduces their competitiveness.”
The full NAO report will be available from its website here.