The office party at the Meat and Livestock Commission could be a despondent affair this Christmas. Its 120 employees were told by Defra in June this year that they would be out of a job by April 2008 in a shake-up of the levy board system.

The verdict was delivered by new Defra farming minister Lord Rooker after the long-awaited Radcliffe Report said the boards weren't efficient enough.

Defra's axe could have fallen on almost any of the levy boards, But few would have confidently predicted that the MLC would be abolished outright.

It was always said to have one of the highest satisfaction ratings of all the boards from levy payers. Headquartered in a shiny new building in Milton Keynes, it had been seen as something of a blueprint for levy boards, and enjoyed the approval of farmers.

But in some ways it was the victim of its own success. Rooker thought its federal structure was such a good model that he decided to borrow it to create a new super board, chaired by John Bridge. Each of the existing boards is now fighting for its life in the Fresh Start initiative, which will decide how and what they do from 2008 onwards.

The one consolation for MLC director-general Kevin Roberts is that the system he helped to fashion will live on after the MLC is gone. And if he gets his way, it could even be run from the MLC's buildings in Milton Keynes.

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