I’m tempted to emulate the satire of Tom Pride’s Pride’s Purge with this story, but in truth it needs no satire.
Apparently a “leaked document” purports to suggest that Labour are thinking about removing business rate exemptions on Agricultural Land, which could raise £500M.
Farmers are perhaps the most subsidised and tax-exempt of all industries, with the possible exception of the Fossil Fuel industry. Farmers can gain Capital Gains Tax exemption, Inheritance Tax exemption, Corporation Tax exemption, Business Rates exemption and receive at least £240 per hectare per annum for every piece of land they own or rent. Imagine being given £25,000 a year just for owning or renting a house?
The report, in Farmers Guardian calls it a “Farm Tax”. Removing an exemption is not a tax.
The CLA president Henry Robinson reacted by claiming it “If this report turns out to be true, it would mean the end of British agriculture as we know it, the abandonment of much of the countryside, and less money to spend on the environment.” I’m surprised he didn’t mention plagues of frogs, so apocalyptic was his hysterical response. yet its Environmentalists who are regularly accused of exaggerating the threats to the environment.
He went on (now metaphorically foaming at the mouth)
“Most farms are barely viable as it is; requiring them to pay business rates will tip most of them over the edge. Farmers will have to give up their businesses and it is unlikely there will be anyone willing to take them over,” he said.
“This could result in a move to more industrial scale farming on a scale that would be completely unacceptable to the industry and to the British public.”
So on one breath the CLA are saying this business tax exemption removal will cause
- Industrial scale farming;
- The end of British Agriculture;
- Less money to spend on the environment
Planning Minister Eric Pickles weighed in claiming it would push food prices up and threaten the farm sector. Interesting that Owen Paterson the Farm Minister didn’t provide a comment – has he already heard he’s for teh chop; is Pickles now angling for the Farm Brief after his magnificent performance during the floods?
This total dependency by the farming sector on state welfare hand-outs, either via farm subsidies, or via a complicated network of inter-related tax breaks, reminds me of drug addiction. While the addict can continue to gain access to their drug, they can just about function in their daily lives. If that supply is disrupted, the addict will lose all sense of rational purpose and focus entirely on regaining access to their drug. They will take whatever action is needed to protect that supply, including hysterical pleading, stealing, lying and cheating. The solution is that they need to be helped to stop using. Help that includes incentives and sanctions. Help that is supportive but firm.
We as society need to help wean our farmers off their dependency on the benefits derived from subsidy and tax breaks; and only support them where they provide public goods, such as clean water, carbon storage healthy pollinators and wildlife.