Agri-Food sector slowed by ‘lack of finance’

SDLP MLA Patsy McGlone has raised concerns on behalf of the agri-food sector on the “lack of finance” available from local banks.

Mr McGlone highlighted the fears following a recent Assembly Committee meeting he chaired for the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment.

During the meeting the committee heard evidence from Agri-Food Strategy Board chair Tony O’Neill about the “reluctance” from banks providing financial assistance to the industry.

“At a recent meeting of the Assembly Committee for Enterprise, Trade and Investment, Tony O’Neill, chair of the Agri-Food Strategy Board, gave evidence on a number of issues facing the agri-food sector as it seeks to expand.

“Mr O’Neill identified finance as the biggest issue for farmers today. There are problems in securing it and there are delays in getting it,” said Mr McGlone.

“According to the chair of the Agri-Food Strategy Board it is a much greater problem than any planning issues or environmental concerns. Difficulty in the realisation of funding from local banks is impeding efficient delivery of the Board’s strategy as well as projects on the ground.

“The agri-food sector is losing business and jobs here while it is growing in England because, in the words of the chair of the Strategy Board, ‘We are not as business friendly as we need to be’.

Mr McGlone continued: “The primary reason for that is it is much more difficult to secure the necessary finance for investment opportunities. The committee was told that while local banks may talk about lending money, they will not do it.

“I raised this with Jim Brown of the Ulster Bank and they are to have further talks with the Agri-Food Strategy Board about these concerns.

The SDLP Assemblyman says he has also questioned the Agriculture Minister on the issues.

“The agri-food sector is a low margin business and is particularly susceptible to changes in the world prices on commodities,” he said.

“There is a need for the Agriculture Minister to work collectively with her Executive colleagues to ensure that local banks play their part in helping build the agri-food sector and boost our local economy.”