LIZ Truss’s surprise elevation to Defra Secretary of State has been met with “uneasy optimism” by the agricultural community, a large number of whom had a grudging respect for Owen Cameron who, after a shaky start, had earned this respect through his no-nonsense approach and appetite for hard work.
Sometimes tipped as a future Conservative leader, Mrs Truss has a hard road to hoe to earn similar respect, with little or no apparent previous interest in her new portfolio, other than that which she needed to know for her rural constituency of South-West Norfolk.
However, she has said: “Farming is a vital industry in this constituency.”
And she has a number of concerns about the use of agricultural land for solar and biomass plants and the subsidies for these operations.
She is apparently keen to ensure UK food security is not jeopardised, saying: “Food and farming is the largest manufacturing industry in the UK and I am keen to see that the importance of this sector is recognised.”
So, what will she get up to at Defra?
All the evidence is that she is scornful of the climate change agenda, saying: “Food and farming is the largest manufacturing industry in the UK and I am keen to see that the importance of this sector is recognised.” So far so good. Such statements should keep the agricultural lobby happy.
She has long argued that the £1:£8 cost benefit ratio formula provided by the Environment Agency for the funding of flood prevention schemes does not value farmland highly enough.
Mrs Truss worked in the energy and telecommunications industries for ten years as a commercial manager and economics director and is a qualified management accountant.
She said: “I look forward to tackling the important issues facing our rural communities including championing British food, protecting people from flooding and improving the environment.”
However, environmentalists are likely to lament her appointment. They will worry that, when it comes to this autumn’s badger cull – the most controversial issue awating her on her desk at Defra – she is unlikely to spend much time resisting the demands of the NFU and others that the culls should continue apace.
NFU President Meurig Raymond said: “Farmers grow and produce the raw ingredients for one of the country’s most successful sectors, food and drink, worth some £92 billion to the UK economy. I look forward to meeting with Liz Truss at the earliest opportunity and working together on some of the key issues facing our sector.
“I would like to take this opportunity to thank Owen Paterson for his hard work and dedication to farming and agriculture over the past two years.
“He showed an understanding of farmers and the farming industry and knew how important food production and food security is.”
One close figure of Mrs Truss said: “She is ferociously intelligent and will pick it up very quickly, even though I observe scant interest in agriculture and rural affairs beyond what she absolutely needs as an MP with an agricultural constituency.”