CLA Director General Sarah Hendry reflects on how the CLA and its members have had to adapt this year as a result of the challenges brought by Covid-19 as well as build resilience in readiness for new agriculture, environment and trade legislation
When 2020 started, the CLA was prepared for what was set to be a tempestuous year for rural and farming businesses. What we could not have predicted was a pandemic that would have the UK, and the world, on its knees.
When the prime minister announced the lockdown in March, we took instant action. CLA staff immediately began working from home. Within two days of lockdown, we were conducting our first committee meeting using a newfound technology – Zoom. And we rapidly set up the Covid-19 resource centre on the website.
Closing down the economy overnight was frighteningly unreal, but we rolled up our sleeves and worked to make sense of it all. With a continual flow of communication through new technology and traditional channels, we made every effort to keep you informed of changing guidance and what that meant for your businesses. We lobbied hard and fast to keep farm production going with our Land Army campaign and pressed government to reopen tourism businesses safely as soon as possible.
CLA members were equally quick to adapt. We saw the creation of food box deliveries, hand sanitiser production and drive-through farm shops. The resilience of members has been astounding.
Covid-19 added a heavy new layer on top of our ongoing work. We’ve lobbied hard on Brexit and new agriculture, environment and internal market legislation. We’ve been tenacious on not allowing the UK’s high animal health and welfare standards to be undermined in trade agreements. We continue to lobby intensively in England to avert the risk of farms going out of business in the transition from basic payments to new agricultural schemes.
From a business point of view, we saw no choice but to take our sales team off the road during lockdown. We’ve taken a hit by not bringing in new members. But new technology and other innovations have helped us engage with a wider range of members than before and member retention is very high indeed. I hope this means the hard work of the CLA team has not gone unnoticed by you.
Looking ahead, we are investing more into policy and advice to protect your interests at this crucial juncture and respond to emerging challenges. 2021 sees the UN Climate Change Conference coming to the UK: giving our work on net zero, forestry, biodiversity net gain and water extra impetus. It’s time to get out there, despite the tough climate, and convince new members that they cannot afford not to join the CLA.
A year ago, the CLA set a fresh purpose and vision, reflecting the importance of our “rural powerhouse” and CLA members’ passion to make a difference on national and global challenges. Despite the pandemic, together we have lived up to those intentions.
At this “gate of the year”, many will be understandably glad to bid 2020 farewell. We will, however, enter 2021 a more resilient organisation, ready to face whatever the year ahead throws at us. I wish you and your families a happy, healthy and peaceful New Year.