03 October 2001

S1M-2278 A Forward Strategy for Scottish Agriculture

Scottish Parliament

Wednesday 3 October 2001


[THE PRESIDING OFFICER opened the meeting at 14:30]

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"A Forward Strategy for Scottish Agriculture"

The Presiding Officer (Sir David Steel): Our next item of business is the debate on motion S1M-2278, in the name of Ross Finnie, on "A Forward Strategy for Scottish Agriculture", and two amendments to the motion.


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Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): "A Forward Strategy for Scottish Agriculture" is a rattling good read: light, frothy and unchallenging. It might have come from the Mills & Boon school of strategy. As the minister highlighted, the report outlines 54 action points, although he asks us to read it as a whole. I suspect that I know why he does not want us to focus on the detail.

I have been responsible for strategy in a major company and I would apply a number of tests to assess the value of any strategy. Those tests are very simple. Will the strategy change anything? Does it give a timetable over which any change will take place? Does it provide resources for change? Does it allocate responsibility to the parties who must make the changes? Does it have agreement to action? On all those tests, the Executive's forward strategy, in so far as it may be described as a strategy at all, fails. The minister described it as a vision. Perhaps wisely, he avoided using the word "strategy" in many of his remarks.

The strategy reminds me of the reply that a hot-air balloon pilot got when, on descending through cloud, he asked a farmer in the field below, "Where am I?" The farmer replied, "You're 100ft above my field." In other words, it is accurate, but not much use. If only the Executive strategy was a mere 100ft away from the answer. We need less hot air, more action, a great deal more urgency and more relevance.

Let us consider some of the detail underpinning the Executive's strategy—the 54 action points. Five of them address beasts, four address sheep but none addresses pigs, fowl or crops. In fact, pigs are not mentioned until an annexe at page 49 of the 60 pages. Fourteen of the action points are for farmers to take, 15 indicate further reviews and 21 tell us that people and organisations other than the Executive will be taking action.

Most frightening, there are eight action points that I can categorise only as motherhood and apple pie. Let me give members an example. Action point 45 states:

"The farming, food and environment sectors must work together to identify new ways of protecting and enhancing our environment while ensuring the competitiveness of our farming businesses."

Even the SNP cannot disagree with that. However, the document contains no action, no resources and no timetable. It is motherhood, plain and simple. Those who are agin it should stand up now.

I concede that there is one action point with a date. Action point 41 would establish another working group, to report six months after having been set up. I am delighted by the minister's announcement that the group has now been set up and I expect its report to be delivered to us by the end of March.

Ross Finnie said that we must not merely focus on immediate problems. I agree. However, unless we can travel round the current problems we will not reach the future—there will be nae farms for the future. A vision for the future—which the document might just be, sometimes—provides only a context for a strategy. It does not deliver one.

In answer to Alex Fergusson, the minister stated that the Executive still had to develop detail on land management contracts. That is typical of the way in which the document deals with things.

I am delighted to hear that the minister will meet local enterprise companies tomorrow. In that area, at least, we are moving ahead.

We share the minister's objective of delivering a viable farming sector. I do not doubt his good faith, but I doubt that this document represents a strategy. I doubt that we know when it will deliver. The document does not suggest that action will be taken with the sense of urgency that the industry requires. To be kind—a word that the minister used—I wish that I could share the minister's optimism, but I cannot. Many people in the industry remain dispirited and downhearted.


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