Very few people would have known that during the General Election period there was in place a ban on the public from seeing information on which English and Welsh farmers and agribusinesses had picked up the taxpayers €3 billion in 2009 from EU farm subsidies.
Defra’s decision was a return to the bad old days of just a few years ago when all such information was classified as secret. The organisation, and similar ones across Europe, was forced to change its attitude after journalists, collectively working across Europe under http://farmsubsidy.org, employed freedom of information requests to obtain the facts and figures.
In 2005, against opposition from the Country Land and Business Association and its supporters in the Conservative Party, Labour released the figures for the first time. Farming subsidies account for approximately 40% of the EU’s entire budget and in Britain rose from £1.7 billion in 2004 to £2.8 billion four years later, a jump of 64%.
Analysts were anticipating the 2009 statistics being released in May 2010. That was certainly the case in the other 26 EU states, and across the border in Scotland courtesy of the Scottish Government. No so in England and Wales, London flouting an EU directive here with a curt Defra announcement that 2009 figures would not be out ‘until after the election.’
If farmsubsidy.org is to be believed the decision benefitted the Conservative’s. They estimated over 10% of the parties 650 candidates were likely to be receiving a subsidy, with the postman or woman even delivering some of the receipts to the same postcode shared by the local Conservative Association. A number of Ukip candidates are also thought to have received subsidies.
In 2008 the main beneficiaries of the €3755 EU farm subsidies were as follows: -
Tate and Lyle Europe 134 [yes one hundred and thirty four million]
Czarnikow Group 8.5
KG Growers 3.9
G’s Growers 3.6
Berryworld producer organisation 2.4
Forest of Dartmoor Commoners Association 1.7
Fruition Pro Ltd 1.6
In 17th place was Sir Richard Suttons Settled Estates with 1.1 million euros in direct payments, as well as close to 400,000 euros for rural development. Five years ago, when Labour released the first figures, attempts by the Guardian newspaper to get Sir Richard’s views on his taxpayer’s bonuses failed after he was unavailable for comment. He has since maintained his silence. The Suttons claim to be able to trace their lineage back to Siward, Lord Sutton of Sutton in Holderness, who lived at the time of the Norman conquest.