Government adviser urges review of farmers’ tax-breaks


Combine harvester in a field.

Tax breaks for UK farmers should be reviewed, the head of a group advising the environment secretary has said.

Economist Dieter Helm said the current system of taxpayer-funded support was extremely wasteful and the industry suffered from “subsidy addiction”.

Prof Helm said the exemption of farmland and buildings was used to avoid inheritance tax.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said his ideas were not under consideration.

‘Red diesel’

Prof Helm told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “Farmers receive not just the £3bn of subsidy, they receive a whole range of other benefits that nobody else in the economy gets.”

In July, Environment Secretary Michael Gove wrote to Prof Helm thanking him for his “counsel” and asking his Natural Capital Committee to advise him on the aims of a 25-year plan for the environment.

But Prof Helm stressed he was speaking in a personal capacity.

He questioned the exemption of business rates for farmland, and the use on farms of “red diesel” which attracts a reduced rate of duty.

There were legitimate concerns about making sure farmers could pass on their businesses to their children, and the tax relief should not be entirely abolished, he said.

But he added: “What we’re seeing is lots of people using farmland for the benefit of simply getting round a pretty tough tax.”

‘Reasonable and fair’

Prof Helm said: “In this reassessment of support and subsidies for farmland we have to put the industry on a long-term reasonable and fair basis with other perfectly legitimate industries and business in the economy.

“If you’re producing 0.7% of output, receiving £3bn of subsidies on output of about £9bn and being exempted on rates, being exempted on diesel and being exempted on inheritance tax, this is quite a list and we’ve got there by accident almost.”

A Defra spokesman said: “These ideas are not under consideration.

“The secretary of state has been clear that he wants to go on generously supporting farmers for many more years to come.”

Prof Helm said the 25-year plan on which his committee would advise would provide a framework to integrate the different ways the government subsidises groups such farmers.

A government source said it would not advise on the details of farming policy.