House of Commons
Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee
EFRA Committee highlights dwindling skills provision facing future of UK farming
The Government is failing UK farmers and the environment by neglecting to invest in skilling the younger generation, say a cross-party group of MPs. The House of Commons EFRA Committee has today written to Education Secretary Gavin Williamson for a second time, criticising the Government's 'long-standing failure' to provide leadership and support to the land-based education sector, and calling on him to set out a national strategy.
Following the closure of Cumbria's only specialist land-based college, Newton Rigg, the Committee express concerns that current policy lacks the necessary safeguards to prevent valuable assets being sold by education providers to make ends meet. This 'selling of the family silver', the Committee notes, can only be addressed by a clear national strategy which places the importance of specialist local provision at the fore.
Neil Parish MP, Chair of the EFRA Select Committee, said:
“The Government's vision for the future of UK farming is ambitious, with environmental protection at its core. This huge shake-up provides British farmers with opportunities and challenges, but will fail if the next generation of farmers and land managers are not properly equipped with the skills they need to implement it. There are important questions that the Secretary of State still needs to answer about the sale of Newton Rigg to prevent this happening elsewhere. A robust national strategy is urgently needed to address the shrinking number of agricultural colleges, particularly in rural areas like Cumbria, where these skills are needed the most. Therefore, once more, our Committee is calling on the Government to demonstrate the value it places on our farming sector and countryside by investing time and money in land-based education."
Dr Neil Hudson MP for Penrith and The Border and Member of the EFRA Committee said:
“Our cross-party EFRA Committee were disappointed in the response we received from the Education Secretary and there are still answers that we urgently need regarding the closure of Newton Rigg. Accordingly we have written to the Secretary of State a second time asking for clarity on the legality of Askham Bryan’s proposed sale of the Newton Rigg assets. I will continue to fight for our rural sector and for a future for land-based education in Cumbria and I continue to work with stakeholders as we seek for a new Newton Rigg to emerge from this upsetting situation in which we find ourselves. Our Committee is calling for a national strategy that protects land-based education in Cumbria and the whole country. This pandemic has brought into sharp relief the importance of food security and to achieve this, you need to be able to train up the next generation of farmers and land managers.”
Please find attached the letter from the Chair to SoS for Education.