Horticulture ballot: Town Hall FAQs

Read the questions asked by the levy payers and growers who attended the Horticulture Town Hall open meetings on this regularly updated frequently asked questions (FAQ) page. 

Ballot

The question is: 

Do you agree that the statutory horticulture levy (including the mushroom levy) should continue? 

The result will then go to ministers who will consider it and then make a decision on the future, however Ministers are not bound by the result of the ballot itself. 

The government have said that there is no scope to wind the clock back and recreate ‘HDC’ (Horticulture Development Council which became AHDB along with the other levy boards).

Communications and engagement

Levy payers are at the heart of what we do, but we recognise that there is more that we can do to engage with a greater number of growers. Within AHDB, the panel structure is unique to Horticulture however, there are only around 50-60 growers engaged across all the panels.

Every grower should be able to tell us at some level what their priority is and have the opportunity to engage or become more involved e.g. as part of a project group, a committee, an online portal, etc. 

Starting from now, we have the ability to transform the way we interact with growers. We are inviting you to join an ongoing conversation with AHDB to have your say on the work we do and where your levy money is spent. 

Go to the Change programme and strategy 2021–2026 where you can find out more about how you can get involved (see page 7 of the strategy document).

  • AHDB are developing a more comprehensive account management approach that enables us to communicate effectively with all growers regardless of their size whilst recognising the needs of a large levy paying business may be different to a small one
  • We need to get the right balance between face to face engagement and the ability to have quick online round table discussions with growers at all levels, in a way that suits them and their business
  • All growers must be able to feed into the AHDB and submit priorities are accessible and needed by all growers e.g. EAMUs

We need and want to work collaboratively with levy payers to ensure that our knowledge transfer and communications are accessible to all.

AHDB operates on a fundamental principle that we provide a service to levy payers. If you feel that we don’t listen to levy payers and we don’t respond to your comments and queries, then we have to revaluate how we are delivering that service. This is why we have embarked on a programme of radical reform including enhanced engagement with levy payers; you know your businesses and we’ve got to listen to you to ensure that we meet your needs. 

AHDB Horticulture currently has over 1,400 levy payers, and research programmes and levies have to be determined with the whole agreement of the different crop groups within Horticulture. AHDB Horticulture operates a panel structure with around 50-60 growers engaged across all the panels. But, we want to go further to ensure that every levy payer has the opportunity to engage with us in a way that’s meaningful for them.  This will support a more collaborative and partnership approach. 

We know that AHDB has previously used a one size fits all approach to communications. We recognise that a man-marking approach with a member of our team to support you will ensure that businesses can feed back and better access our services. We are determined that no one will go through the year without someone from AHDB being in touch.

Absolutely, we have learnt a lot this year. We have reached new audiences with our digital offering this year and will look to continue to deliver online events.  We do also recognise the continuing importance of face-to-face engagement, so will look to deliver a mix of online and face-to-face events in the future.  

We are also committed to delivering a new online service for levy payers next year. We’re open for business – engage with us.

Governance and organisational change

The Government’s Request for Views consultation on AHDB called for our governance to modernise to improve transparency, efficiency and accountability to industry. Using feedback from levy payers, we are undertaking a review of our governance. This work is ongoing and proposals are being considered by the AHDB Board. 

We have made a further commitment to involve levy payers in steering the work that we do to ensure the best possible return for levy. More information can be found in our Change programme and strategy 2021–2026.

There is a governance review which is yet to be completed and so it is too early to say if there will be any potential change to the panels. 

We want to make sure that we have levy payer support for any changes. As such, if the result of the ballot vote is ‘yes’, we will be discussing with levy payers any proposals for the future. 

Our aim is to build on the great foundation of the panels and develop levy payer engagement through several methods, so every grower has the opportunity to highlight priorities and steer investment.

The Change programme and strategy 2021–2026 includes a clear programme of change, including amendments to the existing Statutory Instrument. AHDB is already working with levy payers across all sectors to deliver the changes that will make a difference to each levy payer, such as the levy mechanism. However, this is not a top-down process and we want to further engage with levy payers to ensure that future needs and priorities are met. 

We recognise there are genuine differences between the challenges facing sectors and even within sectors. Levy payers’ requirements for research, marketing, exports or analysis are not the same. One size does not fit all and levies must be set to reflect the value provided. Within Horticulture, we also know that there are specific challenges for different crops which require targeted solutions. 

The new Chair, Nicholas Saphir was appointed with a remit for reform following the Request for Views exercise by the Government. Hayley Campbell-Gibbons, Chair of the Horticulture Board ,has been championing change for levy payers throughout her time in post. Both are personally committed to ensure that AHDB delivers this change for levy payers.

It is a common criticism of AHDB that it has become bureaucratic and top heavy. As a public body, we have to answer to the Statutory Instrument. There are things we would like to change now, but we can’t as we have to change the Statutory Instrument to do so. However, we are proactively working with the Government now to address this. 

We want a new structure that is co-designed with levy payers to ensure that all sectors will be able to access funds and turn around projects as needed. It will be a flexible approach and run at sector level. It will be much more about sectors making the decisions about where they want to spend the levy. 

In Horticulture, engagement with levy payers to achieve this is absolutely vital. We couldn’t do what we do without levy payer involvement. We need to get the right balance between face to face engagement and the ability to have quick online round table discussions with growers at all levels, in a way that suits them and their business.

Absolutely. Our Change programme and strategy 2021–2026 is about co-designing the way costs and the setting of levies will take place, as well greater levy payer engagement. 

The Horticulture Board and the panels are already grower-led. The message that we want levy payers to take away is that we want more grower involvement and engagement to enhance the operation.

We are embarked on radical reform – change is already happening.  Results from the Government-led Request for Views were published in April. We responded to this by publishing our five commitments to levy payers. This month we published our Change programme and strategy 2021–2026. This is out there for levy payers to give us their feedback. This demonstrates the changes that we are making and we are genuinely wanting levy payer feedback – we are here to listen, we are not here to tell you.

Levy payers are at the heart of what we do, but we recognise that there is more that we can do to engage with a greater number of growers. Within AHDB, the panel structure is unique to Horticulture however, there are only around 50-60 growers engaged across all the panels. 

Every grower should be able to tell us at some level what their priority is and have the opportunity to engage or become more involved e.g. as part of a project group, a committee, an online portal, etc. 

Starting from now, we have the ability to transform the way we interact with growers. We are inviting you to join an ongoing conversation with AHDB to have your say on the work we do and where your levy money is spent. 

If anyone has any suggestions, please tell us. Go to the Change programme and strategy 2021–2026 where you can find out more about how you can get involved (see page 7 of the strategy document).

There will be a five-year ballot and the timetable and process are being discussed with Defra. 

Five years from the original request for views in 2018 (2.5 years from now) would be logical and then a five year cycle, but we are in discussion with Defra as to the timing and the make-up of such a ballot - by crop, by value of levy, by region are all being discussed - including whether it's a ballot just on levy continuation or also on the programmes delivered.

One of the principles in our Modern Levy System proposal is that “AHDB will undertake work where there is value in the industry resourcing it collectively”. Under this principle, the levy is only to be used to fund activity that is more valuable to growers when conducted for the benefit of that whole group. 

Within ornamentals, an example of this is the vine weevil work. Research is conducted on a range of sample crops. So whilst this means that 70 crops have been trialled, the findings can be adapted more widely meaning that the learnings from that research benefit the majority of growers. Those individual tweaks that levy payers will make by using the findings as a template are what provides growers with their own competitive edge. 

Regarding tax relief, AHDB cannot comment on something that is different to each levy payer and their own unique circumstance. We would suggest levy payers speak with their own advisors regarding their tax position. 

We’re inviting input to the levy mechanism conversation from growers. We want to better understand from the levy payers’ perspective what AHDB is delivering now, that growers feel they could achieve more efficiently as an individual. To take part in that conversation, go to the Change programme and strategy 2021–2026 where you can find out more about how you can feed back (see page 7 of the strategy document).

Levy and levy mechanism

The levy collection mechanism is written in the statutory instrument which is the legislation under which we operate. In response to feedback from growers and the Government’s Request for Views, we are working with growers to review the mechanism and have committed to design a more modern levy system. 

Once this work is completed, there will be consultation on the proposals and they will go to UK Ministers for agreement and then be built into the statutory instrument under which we operate. 

Go to the Change programme and strategy 2021–2026 for more information on the proposed levy changes. 

Alternatively, please contact Ruth Ashfield, AHDB Horticulture Strategy Director, ruth.ashfield@ahdb.org.uk

As part of AHDB’s Change Programme, we have been addressing the issues of delivering programmes that are wanted by levy payers and ensuring they deliver value through a modern levy system. We have proposed to set levy rates through zero based budgeting in the future i.e. changing levy rates up and down to undertake the work we are asked to do by levy payers. 

We are proposing to have different rates for different horticultural groups. We are seeking feedback on proposals set out in the strategy document.  

Once the new levy system has been designed in discussion with growers to ensure it’s relevant and practicable, proposals will then be submitted to ministers for agreement and then built into the statutory instrument which is the legislation under which we operate.

Legislative changes are dependent on the Parliamentary calendar and also usually require a 12-week period of industry consultation. So realistically legislative changes are unlikely to be in place before spring 2022. 

We are committed to putting the required evidence together in early 2021 to support the parliamentary process. 

In the meantime, there are changes that AHDB can and already are making. We are seeking feedback on proposals set out in the strategy document so get in touch to have your say

The timeframe for the new budgeting cycle is expected to have a broad structure for around three years as  it needs to be of a sufficient length to allow us to commit to research programmes – but this does not mean we cannot have some flex in rates on an annual basis to deal with changes in the industry. 

In the future we will set the levy rate for each crop and/or sector to fund the priorities that the levy payers determine. This means that levy rates may go up and down accordingly. It is also worth noting that we have to change the Statutory Instrument to allow different crop groups to have different rates. 

We intend to sit down with levy payers and determine what this means and could look like for different crop groups.

We investigate all reports of non-payment of levy and often find they are actually paying or below the threshold to pay. We also now using satellite imaging technology and have new data sharing agreements in place with the government that helps us address this issue. We have increased auditing of levy returns over the recent years to ensure the correct amount of levy is paid. 

We also recognise that we need to ensure that the levy process is as easy and accessible as possible to all potential levy payers.

Applied research and development remains a key focus of AHDB Horticulture. Research institutions want to draw on our experience and relationships, and we believe that there is enormous opportunity for future partnerships from both research councils and private investment. 

As a non-departmental government organisation, AHDB occupies a space within the industry to bring together the commercial and research sectors. The role of AHDB in facilitating is important and by using our knowledge and connections, we help to facilitate the delivery of research and support for emergency challenges, such as Tomato Brown Rugose Fruit Virus (ToBRFV) when the industry needs it. We have already embarked on this road. 

It is important that any new levy mechanism enables growers to plan for the long term and be agile enough to tackle emerging issues. 

As we face a period of uncertainty in the wider environment, now more than ever there is a strong case that the industry should work together to solve common challenges. The statutory levy is the mechanism that enables this. If businesses vote no, there will not be another statutory levy. The government have said that there is no scope to create another levy body (for example, HDC - Horticulture Development Council - which became AHDB along with the other levy boards). 

We are committed to delivering better transparency of costs. The What do I get for my levy pages evidence this, and moving forward, there will be greater transparency still.

New opportunities and the future

We are always open to having conversations with any sector that feel they would benefit from collaborating together through a statutory levy. Conversations about these sort of matters do take place from time to time. Any proposals would have to have strong support from that sector.

×