The horticultural industry has provided an overwhelming ‘no’ vote (with just 39% of growers voting to retain the statutory AHDB levy) in the official ballot which closed last week.
The turnout of eligible voters was 69%, with 61% voting against the continuation of the levy, and 39% supporting the status quo.
The result has been passed to UK ministers and the devolved administrations to decide what happens next.
AHDB chairman Nicholas Saphir said: “The voting information reported by UK Engage shows different sentiment across different crop sectors and size of business. It is really a very complex picture.”
UK Farming Minister Victoria Prentis said: “We will now take these results and scrutinise them closely before making a decision on the future of the horticulture levy in due course.”
However, growers have expressed concerns about what appear to be last-minute attempts to change the way the vote is expressed. Spalding-based flower grower Simon Redden says: “As the AHDB well knows the statute is quite clear and requires the ballot to be based on ‘one business, one vote’. Nearly two thirds (61%) of qualifying levy-payers have decisively voted against the statutory levy.
“However, Mr Saphir now appears to be blatantly trying to change the rules of the ballot to suit his own interpretation on the basis of total levy paid. This is clearly a desperate and disgraceful attempt to influence ministers whilst trampling on the views of the two-thirds of levy-payers who have voted to get rid of this statutory levy. It lies outside the rules of the ballot and must not be allowed to prevail.
“Basing the result on the amount of levy paid, instead of one business, one vote, is a last-ditch attempt to save AHDB Horticulture. It is not democratic and can be compared to closing the gates on the third-class passengers on the Titanic – letting them drown in an attempt to save the first-class passengers who pay more.”
Vegetable grower Peter Thorold added, “Contrary to the picture that Mr Saphir is trying to paint, this is not a complex interpretation – merely an assault on the democratic premise of one person, one vote.”
The petitioners say that these attempts to skew the result of the Horticulture Ballot also affect the current Ballot on the continuation of the statutory levy for potatoes.
Vegetable and Potato grower John Bratley points out that if Saphir’s train of thought is taken to its logical conclusion, then three-quarters of potato levy payers (around 1,500 growers) will have the value of their votes queried by AHDB, who will claim that their payments are too low. “This is appalling,” he says. “What value is there in any of the ballots of the future that he keeps promising us all if they keep trying to move the goalposts?”
The petitioners also say that NFU now needs to clearly represent the interests of its members and criticise these actions by the AHDB. With an estimated 75% of voters being NFU members (based on data collected in 2020), the NFU needs to clearly support the one business, one vote basis of the current AHDB ballots.
Simon Redden concludes: “The stimulus for our collective action was the appalling response of 0.5% to Defra’s own review, which since then has been used by Ministers, Defra, and AHDB to justify retaining AHDB in its current form. Hard-pressed growers who have benefited little from the poor value of AHDB over the years will not tolerate this situation any longer. They have clearly spoken and voted to end the statutory levy.”
For more information:
AHDB Review Petitioners
John Bratley, 01775 840322
Simon Redden, 01775 722670
Peter Thorold, 01775 840360