The National Farmers’ Union has issued its response to the Autumn Statement by Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne.
NFU chief economic adviser Gail Soutar said: “The Chancellor has announced that the Defra day-to-day operating budget will be cut by 15% and we must wait for more details before understanding the full impact of this on farmers. It is reassuring that the flood defence budget will be ring-fenced and that the Government will prioritise spending on animal and plant disease prevention, for example by continuing to invest in implementing its 25-year strategy to eradicate bovine tuberculosis.
“The Chancellor also said he would invest £12bn in capital infrastructure and a boost to the Government’s digital service. As part of this, he said he was introducing a digital tax account by 2020 to replace tax returns, including new reporting requirements, and a consultation on tax payment dates. We will be following this closely to assess its feasibility for our members.
“We are disappointed that there was no mention of how farmers, many of whom are among the 5% who struggle with broadband access, will benefit from improved broadband facilities. It is absolutely vital that broadband services in this country are fit for purpose. We need a firm commitment from Government to deliver superfast broadband for all – what we don’t need is an increased divide between urban and rural communities.
“We are pleased that the Chancellor said that tax credits would not be cut from next April, as previously planned as this will help many farming families who are experiencing falling incomes.
“It is disappointing that the Government has decided to end the micro employer relaxation of PAYE ‘on or before’ reporting from April 2016. This will impose a significant additional burden on many agricultural businesses engaging seasonal workers at harvest time. Larger employers will, however, be concerned at the rate of the new Apprenticeship Levy of 0.5% of payroll costs from April 2017.”