The NFU has dismissed rumours of a 'cover up' and revealed further details of the Red Tractor governance review after concerns were raised about the independence of the process.
This week, the NFU announced it had appointed Campbell Tickell, a multi-disciplinary management consultancy, specialising in governance, to carry out the review which was ordered following the row over the assurance body's Greener Farms Commitment plan.
According to the union, the appraisal will establish Red Tractor's decision-making procedures and its transparency, examine who is consulted by Red Tractor in its development of standards and look at the balance of this feedback and how Red Tractor engages with stakeholders.
Speaking to Farmers Guardian, NFU president Minette Batters dismissed reports circulating last week which had questioned the independence of the review and had likened the process to Red Tractor ‘marking its own homework'.
"I am amazed that people thought this was some kind of cover up," Mrs Batters said. "Campbell Tickell are experts in this field. These things take time and we had to find someone with the right skillset. Also, the information had to be communicated to our members in the first instance.
"Yes there are challenges but the most important thing now is that the ownership body listens and that everyone takes note of what is proposed."
The review was ordered after Red Tractor was accused of acting outside its remit when it announced its Greener Farms Commitment - which required farmers to achieve a list of asks to boost retailers' environmental aims - without proper consultation with members.
Red Tractor has said there will now be no decisions on the implementation or timing of the GFC or on other changes to existing Red Tractor Standards until the NFU's review of governance is complete.
The emerging findings of that review will be presented to NFU Council in late January. The Red Tractor Ownership Body has agreed to ‘own the findings of the review and also approved the terms of reference'. The final report should be made available in mid-February.
NSA's vice president and Red Tractor sector board member Bryan Griffiths said the fact the NFU and Red Tractor were ‘surprised' by people's concern as to the nature of the review, showed the ‘lack of connectivity they had with grassroots farmers and that in itself could be seen to be part of a governance issue.'
Mr Griffiths continued: "We are still waiting for details of what this review will look like. I am still hoping for the opportunity to feed into that and I am hopeful that the outcome will lead to an assurance scheme that is more all-inclusive and would command a level of trust and ownership that has been sadly lost."