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Uncertain times for British agriculture, says Blanchards Bailey

Edward O'Brien, Solicitor - Litigation and Disputes
Edward O'Brien, Solicitor - Litigation and Disputes

British agriculture is facing uncertain times with labour shortages spelling grave trouble and new legislation coming into effect that will leave businesses breaking those laws unless action is taken.

The rural community is facing a potential crisis due to a nose dive in numbers of foreign workers in the industry amid uncertainty created by Brexit, according to Parliament’s Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee.

The committee claims labour shortages could see food rotting in the fields - with the current problems set to be exacerbated if no action is taken.

Chair of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, Neil Parish MP laid bare the gravity of the situation at last month’s meeting. "Without sufficient labour, both from the UK and overseas, agricultural and horticultural businesses cannot function,” he said. “For a long time the industry has relied on foreign workers to perform temporary and permanent roles to make good shortages in the availability of UK labour; UK agriculture could not function without foreign labour.”

He added: “The period since 23 June 2016 (the UK’s vote to leave the EU) has seen increased difficulties for businesses recruiting foreign labour and has presented severe challenges for the industry.”

The committee also stated that current Government statistics do not properly measure the problem and should be reviewed so the sector is confident post-Brexit immigration policies are based on an accurate assessment of agriculture’s demand for, and supply of, foreign labour.

Those in the agricultural sector also need to be aware of recent law changes that could further impact on how they operate in an increasingly testing environment. The Apprenticeship Levy came into effect on 6 April and will see any business with total employee earnings of more than £3m having to pay 0.5% of their payroll costs towards the levy.

While many businesses have been preparing for the levy for months, several recent surveys, including one from the British Chambers of Commerce, have revealed large numbers of employers were not aware of the levy and had no plans to recoup any of the levy contribution they will have to pay.

Rural businesses committed to training staff could stand to benefit, as they can claim back the cost of approved training courses under the scheme. But employers will need to train sufficient numbers of apprentices to reap the rewards of the new scheme - where they can benefit from a £15,000 allowance each tax year, which can be used to offset levy payments.

Last month’s new Equality Act 2010 (Gender Pay Gap Information) Regulations 2017 should also be noted by rural businesses. The new law aims to reduce inequality by forcing all businesses with 250 employees or more to publish details on the differences between the salaries they pay their male and female staff.

Latest figures from the Office for National Statistics show the gender pay difference is 9.4%, which has resulted in many businesses coming under the microscope. Rural private sector employers will be required to publish results on both their website and a designated government website by no later than 4 April 2018.

New rules regarding Inheritance Tax liability is also something to be aware of for rural homeowners. While potentially spelling good news due to it offering an extra allowance, it could still see people missing out on its benefits unless they review their Wills to reflect the changes.

The reality that most Wills were drafted before the changes came into effect means they will be outdated and leaving many facing the prospect of losing out on huge sums of money unless they make the necessary adjustments.

Blanchards Bailey can advise you on the best way to maximise what you are entitled to. To review your Will and ensure you do not miss out, contact Jerome Dodge, Principal and Head of Private Client - Wills and Estate Planning on 01258 483616 today.

For more information, contact the author Edward O’Brien, Solicitor Litigation and Disputes on 01258 483601.

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