Governance update from the Chairman of AHDB Nicholas Saphir

Monday, 18 January 2021

This communication is part of the ongoing updates we are giving and will continue to provide regarding progress on the five commitments developed in response to the Request for Views report.

As you know, we published the new AHDB strategy and change programme for feedback in December and have had positive and constructive feedback so far.  In the recent town hall meetings on the strategy and meetings about the ballots, AHDB future governance has been raised regularly and therefore we wanted to make sure everyone had the latest information on the first stage of governance changes AHDB is implementing to ensure we build a modern, fit for the future organisation for levy payers.

As one of our five commitments to levy payers, we said we would review and reform our governance structures. By governance we mean the main board, the sector boards, committees and panels that oversee AHDB, that set strategy, budgets and monitor performance. Defra specifically asked AHDB to conduct a review following levy payer feedback in its Request for Views consultation with industry. Our ambition is to build a modern, effective governance structure that encourages our levy payers to proactively engage with AHDB, our teams and our programme of activity.


A Governance Review Group (GRG) was set up, chaired by independent board member Janet Swadling and including three sector board chairs, (Mike Sheldon – Pork; Paul Temple – Cereals & Oilseeds; Hayley Campbell-Gibbons – Horticulture). The objective of the group is to put forward governance proposals that will reduce bureaucracy and deliver better value and outcomes for levy payers. The GRG worked with external governance specialists, Campbell Tickell, to conduct an evaluation of the way the current AHDB Board worked. They also consulted widely with the executive team and sector board members to understand how our layers of governance operated. It concluded that the structure is not as effective as it could be in decision making, delivering efficiency and in building broad levy payer engagement. With a new five year strategy beginning in April 2021, it is necessary to learn the lessons from this feedback and create a fresh governance structure that enables us to have more positive impact for all farmers, growers and processors.

The recommendations from Campbell Tickell and endorsed by the GRG have been discussed extensively by the entire main board and together we have come to the conclusion that now is the time to introduce a skills based main board at AHDB. This will be consistent with good governance practice and also ensure that the organisation has the breadth of industry knowledge and skills needed to support the new strategy and future challenges.

We are recommending Government ministers overhaul the composition of the board to ensure that with effect from 1 April 2021 the independent non-executive Chair is supported by 10 main board members at least 50% of whom are current, or recent levy payers. We currently have two existing levy-paying members on the main board.  All Board members will be recruited for their specialist skills to shape our strategy and monitor delivery, ensuring that at least 5 members bring industry knowledge, which must include arable (cereals/oilseeds/potato*), horticulture*, and livestock (beef/lamb/dairy/pork) skills and that there is expertise in other specific areas such as environmental matters, data and evidence, marketing, research, exports, customer engagement, finance and transformational change.  Improving board diversity and inclusivity and appropriate geographic coverage are also important factors.

As many of our current board members are coming to the end of their terms of office, we will now begin recruiting new Board members to reflect the necessary skills.

I must pay tribute to all the long hours and extraordinary workload of our current board members who have brought the six levy boards together under the AHDB umbrella and have driven significant improvements in how the levy is applied to support agriculture and horticulture in these rapidly changing times. I would also like to reiterate my thanks all the sector board members who fed into the governance review.

Over the next few months, we will embark on reform of the remainder of the governance structure at AHDB. The increased importance of ensuring improved two-way levy payer engagement in the setting of programmes, budgets and levy recommendations will require changes to the current sector boards and panel structures.  The final design and the appointment process of both appointees and chairs will be co-designed with sector boards and others, including with input from levy payers.

The intention of this change is to increase responsibility and input from levy payers, ensuring an even stronger voice and their specific needs are met. This will give more levy payers more influence over the programmes in their sector and how much levy will be raised. A more inclusive, democratic approach to levy payer engagement requires a culture shift for AHDB, coupled with greater transparency on costs and cross sector opportunities.

We are committed to deliver what farmers, growers and processors want.

My next chairman’s note should cover the ballot in horticulture and potatoes.

Nicholas Saphir 

Chairman AHDB

 (*subject to the outcome of the impending Horticulture and Potato ballots.)