Accountant helps secure vital COVID-19 grants for Welsh farmers
27 July: The determination of Tim Evans, the Welsh representative of the ICAEW’s Farming and Rural Affairs Community, helped secure a vital funding lifeline for thousands of imperilled dairy and mixed farmers.
On June 18, Evans, a partner in the HD Pritchard accountancy practice in West Wales, got the news he’d been fighting for since lockdown began, namely that Welsh farmers would finally be eligible for a grant to help them weather the storms unleashed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
While Chancellor Rishi Sunak began to issue a number of grants, loans and other means of financial support to those afflicted by the coronavirus, it quickly became apparent to Evans, whose three practices across Cardigan, Carmarthen and Tenby, serve hundreds of dairy and mixed farmers, that this vital demographic in the food production chain had been overlooked.
He noted that a perfect storm of low lamb prices and dairy farmers forced to sell their milk to processors for prices as low as 1p a litre (despite their break-even costs being around 23.8p a litre), fused with the increasingly bleak economic environment caused by lockdown, meant action had to be taken.
So in April, he wrote to his MP Simon Hart to address his concerns that farmers had, to his knowledge, been omitted from the support chain, while the end users - hotels, restaurants and processors - had not.
“I have clients who cannot afford to pay their sons to work on the farm and will be furloughed,” Evans wrote in his letter. “With the first harvest of silage imminent, farmers need help now and it is frankly discriminatory these farming businesses are not supported.
“Whilst banks have been instructed to look favourably on supporting profitable businesses with additional loans this does not help with farmers’ operating liquidity. Farmers will be obliged to draw extended credit terms from suppliers thus placing more strain on an already fragile community crippled by uncertainty.
“I have direct experience of witnessing the resilience of farmers, but we have a long way to go suffering under the shadow of COVID-19. It is my sincere concern that if support (or the intention of it) is not offered to farmers in the next quarter we could be facing the very real demise of generations of farming businesses.”
Without such support, he surmised, farmers would be obliged to draw extended credit terms from suppliers thereby placing them in an even more precarious position.
With the business rates grant of £10,000 not available to farmers, “it just got me thinking that it was completely and wholly unfair”, said Evans.
A penny a litre
And with his farmers so desperate for cash that many couldn’t even afford to pay for this year’s silage to be cut and one of the big processors, Freshways, which predominantly sells to Costa Coffee and London’s corner shops, offering a penny a litre, Tim turned to his colleagues in the Institute.
Much lobbying and conversations with key civil servants ensued, alongside contacts in the National Farmers Union (NFU) and the Farmers Union of Wales (FUW). While he heard nothing from the NFU, the FUW said they had secured time with the Business Secretary’s PA, which “was something”.
Within a few weeks, news broke that farmers could apply for a £10,000 grant. But only those in England.
“My heart just dropped, and I thought, ‘what the hell am I going to do now?’”, said Evans. “So I started the whole process off again, finding out who the Assembly minister in the Welsh government for Pembrokeshire is, while my partner did the same for East Carmarthenshire and he happens to be the Plaid Cymru leader, so he sent an email in Welsh and I sent one off to Angela Burns in English, stating that I hadn’t realised it was going to be a devolved grant – what is going on?”
Fast forward via several email exchanges between the ICAEW’s contact in the Welsh Assembly and his connections to June 18 and victory was finally assured, with the grant made available to English farmers now on the table for their Welsh counterparts, too.
“I’m absolutely delighted for the farmers”, said Evans, “but it’s taken all this time from when the first grants were made available from April 2”.
His tenacity in helping secure that vital £10,000 grant clearly mirrors the resilience of the Welsh farming community of which he is clearly so proud to serve.