Ask any farmer what they think of red tape and they will invariably say “I hate it!”
Push the questioning a bit harder and ask: “What bit of it don’t you like?”
The answer, delivered with increasing irritation, will be “All of it. I just hate all of it the whole lot!”
By that time the red mist will have descended and further probing is useless.
It may be a typical scenario, and one this writer would admit to having succumbed to from time to time, but it is hardly helpful.
Brian Pack makes that point in his Agricultural Red Tape Report released on Friday and reported on in Saturday’s Courier.
Rather than just blame the bureaucrats for liberally foisting red tape on all and sundry, he has pointed out that farmers and land managers have a responsibility to understand why it is there and what it seeks to achieve.
In some ways it is an unpalatable message but Brian Pack is not the sort of person who would rather court popularity than deliver home truths. As the former chief executive of ANM Group, Scotland’s largest farmer-owned business, he knows that shielding people from the truth does them no service.
His point is that farmers and land managers operate in a regime that is heavily supported by the taxpayer in any number of ways. Around £639 million of public money is spent on these schemes in any year in Scotland, equating to £120 per person for every resident in the nation.
To expect that money to be simply handed over without the appropriate degree of control and regulation is simply unrealistic.
If farmers are to cope better with red tape they have to understand why it is being applied.
That, of course, is easier said than done and unless there is a real problem, farmers will rarely delve into the small print.
The reason, of course, is the horrendous complexity.
Using plain English and the minimum of jargon, Brian has still needed 170 pages to make his point-by-point case for change. Much of the analysis digs deep into the behind-the-scenes implementation of the regulations and will be a revelation to most people.
Scottish Government officials have been taught to play their cards close to their chests.
For instance, a farmer might have a snap cross-compliance inspection but will have no idea why he has been selected.
It could be at random or it could be because there is a suspicion that there has been a breach.
Brian sees no reason why the reason can’t be given.
Indeed, he favours far more transparency right through the process.
Farmers have to understand the regulations and the reasons for them far better, and officials have to become less like heavy-handed policemen and more like advisers and consultants.
It seems like an unachievable goal, but in the report Brian and his supporting panel point out possible route maps.
The most controversial would see all the Scottish Government’s rural directorates, including Forestry Commission Scotland and Scottish Natural Heritage, become one body.
Others are simpler.
For example the adoption of really effective national databases for cattle and sheep movements could remove the obligation to keep on-farm registers and make tagging regulations easier to comply with.
This new Pack Report is a useful piece of work, and the vital thing will be not to lose it.
Former NFU England chief executive Richard MacDonald compiled a similar report a couple of years ago and made sensible recommendations.
Since then there has been nothing. Defra are believed to be about to pick it up off the shelf and give it a dusting down, but that is not a fate that should be allowed to befall this Scottish report.
Having read much of it over the weekend, I have concluded that it is unlikely to be matched or bettered.
This is the definitive report, or at least it will be when the final version is released after the consultation period. There won’t be another chance to tackle red tape, so this one can’t be missed.
It just needs everyone to become engaged with the process. Go on you know red tape can be fun, especially if the objective is to see it cut into manageable pieces.