The Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB) plans to axe up to 140 jobs as it winds down its potato and horticulture operations.
The farm levy body organisation has come under fire from potato, fruit, vegetable and flower growers in the past year, leading to two ballots on the future of its potato and horticulture operations.
Both ballots resulted in growers voting to abolish paying a statutory levy – 66.4% of potato businesses voted to stop their levy, while 61% of horticulture business owners voted to end theirs too.
AHDB has now announced plans to “wind down significant activities” on behalf of the potato and horticulture sectors, and said that although it was waiting for an official decision on the outcome of the ballots from government ministers, it had listened to levy-payers.
The winding down includes a business case, which requires authorisation from government ministers, to make up to 140 full-time equivalent (FTE) jobs redundant.
An AHDB spokeswoman said: “This includes both changes related to horticulture and potatoes but also a re-organisation of AHDB in line with the efficiency commitments already made. The current FTE headcount within AHDB is 473.”
AHDB said the winding down of activities includes stopping any work which could be carried out by grower associations, individual growers or the supply chain in future. This includes export market access and promotional international trade event work, consumer marketing campaigns, and market pricing and insight information.
The levy body said it will continue to deliver limited emergency work on pests and diseases, including Extension of Authorisation for Minor Use (EAMU) applications, and some contracted research work.
“We are taking a responsible approach in winding down our work programmes for the horticulture and potato sectors,” said interim AHDB chief executive officer, Ken Boynes.
“In addition we have to recognise operational liabilities associated with contracts, people and assets. This means that some level of levy will be needed in 2021 to supplement sector reserves to cover these costs as we manage the change.”
He said levy return forms will be issued by post and email to potato and horticulture levy-paying businesses over the coming fortnight, but invoices will not be issued until ministers have made a decision on levy rates.
“I would also hope that even those who voted against continuation will understand that it will take a little time to make the changes that we need to make,” added Mr Boyns.
“We have a large number of knowledgeable and conscientious staff whose future is now uncertain given that we will be making substantial reductions in our headcount over the coming months and we would ask growers to respect the contribution they have made to horticulture and potatoes and the personal empathy required as we implement these changes.”