Mr G Romagnuolo, Scrutiny Research Officer was in attendance for this item.
1. The Chairman provided a verbal overview of the Short Focused Inquiry (SFI) and outlined the timeline. He noted the contributions made by Members across the Council. The comments of David Smith, Director of Economic Development, in response to the draft SFI recommendations were highlighted.
2. Members thanked Mr Romagnuolo for his work on the report and for reflecting the contributions and recommendations of Members. The contributions of the individuals and organisations who gave their experiences, expertise, and views to the Inquiry during its hearings were acknowledged.
3. Mr Romagnuolo outlined the Inquiry’s information gathering process and highlighted the report’s key findings which included: that British agriculture provided half of the nation’s food supply and employed half a million people; Kent had a high concentration of rural businesses; capital investment in the rural economy had reduced; a reduction in rural tourism and a restriction of labour movement had constricted rural industries and that local farmers welcomed further advisory support, especially on diversification.
4. In reference to trade and perishable goods, a Member reminded the Committee that the report had been drafted prior to the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement, affective as of 1 January 2021. Mr Romagnuolo agreed to factor any alterations resulting from the Trade and Cooperation Agreement into the final report.
5. A Member noted the impact Covid-19 social and business restrictions had on the hospitality industry directly and food supply industry indirectly. A need to ensure that decision makers were made aware of the impact and consequences restrictions had on the food supply chain was stressed.
6. It was said by a Member that KCC needed to increase its rural stewardship and involvement with the rural economy, when the impact rural industries had on the lives of people across Kent was considered. The Member recognised a Kent Rural Board as a possible means of engaging with rural industries to a greater extent, as was outlined in Recommendation 5 of the draft report.
7. The monitoring of soil, including soil depletion and the loss of farmland were raised by a Member as areas which KCC should expand data collection on. It was noted that Kent possessed a significant proportion of the UK’s most fertile agricultural land.
8. In reference to Recommendation 5 of the draft report, a Member noted the need to consider the unintended consequences of EU Exit on the rural economy and identify possible environmental improvements. The need to improve data sharing with rural businesses was stressed. Recommendation 11 was praised for raising awareness of the impact fly-tipping had on rural landowners.
9. A Member noted the significant impact the pandemic had on the dairy industry and stressed the importance of building strong relationships with major supermarkets.
10.In reference to Recommendation 6 of the draft report, a Member stated that further support for the rural economy was required, gave their support for a rural board and emphasised the need for a Cabinet Member to act as Kent’s rural champion.
11.The Chairman agreed to endorse a commitment to protect potentially productive land in his covering letter to the Leader and relevant Cabinet Members.
12.Mr Love moved and Mr Farrell seconded an additional recommendation to the Short Focused Inquiry Report that “KCC’s Cabinet Member for Economic Development should draw the attention of the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to the devastating impact felt throughout the food Rural Affairs to the devastating impact felt throughout the food production and supply chain in Kent of the Covid restrictions imposed on the hospitality industry, and should urge that this impact is fully taken into account during future consideration of current or further restrictions.”
13.Members voted on the motion. The motion was won.
RESOLVED that the Scrutiny Committee approve the Short Focused Inquiry Report into the farming economy, and that it be submitted to the Leader and relevant Cabinet Members along with a request for a formal response to the recommendations within two months.
POST MEETING NOTE: The recommendation that “KCC’s Cabinet Member for Economic Development should draw the attention of the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to the devastating impact felt throughout the food Rural Affairs to the devastating impact felt throughout the food production and supply chain in Kent of the Covid restrictions imposed on the hospitality industry, and should urge that this impact is fully taken into account during future consideration of current or further restrictions” was included in the published Short Focused Inquiry Report.
The Farming Economy SFI report was submitted to the Leader and Cabinet Member on 9 February 2021 for a response within two months.