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Which public goods are people most happy for public money to be spent on?

Posted 2 June

"Even though the public may appreciate the importance of certain public goods, it does not necessarily mean that they believe they should be subsidised."

Profile picture of Lucy Morgan outside the Main Building

Lucy Morgan

For her Honours Research Project (HRP) final year BSc (Hons) Rural Enterprise and Land Management student Lucy Morgan has been working on an exploration of which public goods the citizens of the West Midlands would most like public money to be spent on, in light of the new Environmental Land Management scheme.

Lucy, 22, from near Leominster, Herefordshire, said: “The UK’s departure from the European Union has created the ideal circumstances for a transformation of the current agricultural subsidy system. The new Environmental Land Management scheme will focus on public money being spent on the provision of public goods.

“These goods will be tiered; tier one will encourage environmentally sustainable practices, tier two will focus on local targeted environmental outcomes and tier three will focus on larger scale projects such as restoration of peatland.

“Altogether, the provision of these goods aims to meet the objectives set out in the 25-year Environment Plan.

“With previous policy reforms being based upon what agriculture can deliver, my exploration aimed to uncover which public goods the citizens of the West Midlands would actually like public money to subsidise.

“In 2018 Defra undertook the most relevant research in this field and uncovered the public good that people would like to see subsidised is soil management; something that I found unusual.

"This result could be because only 41 per cent of those surveyed were individuals of the general public and the remaining 59 per cent was made up of business and organisations. These included the Institute of Agricultural Engineers and regional Wildlife Trust groups; both of which would hold a greater understanding of the importance of soils than the general public.

“Further to this, within their research question, participants were asked to rank public goods on their level of importance, but the results were reported as which goods the public would most like to see subsidised.”

The key objectives of Lucy’s research project were: to explore the public’s understanding of agricultural public goods; to identify which categories of public goods citizens would most like public money to subsidise and those which they believe are the most important; and to consider whether the general public’s views differ from farmers.

Lucy said: “Through an online survey, I found that 40.3 per cent of people are not aware of the term ‘public money for public goods’ and most respondents first heard the phase through this survey. However, when asked to provide three public goods that agricultural can deliver participants picked up those in line with existing literature.

“The public goods ranked as the most important were animal welfare and food production, however, those that the public would most like to see subsidised were water quality and flood mitigation. This therefore suggests that even though the public may appreciate the importance of certain public goods, it does not necessarily mean that they believe they should be subsidised. It was further discovered that those who have been affected by flooding have a greater want to subsidise flood mitigation as a public good. Perhaps suggesting that the occurrence of storms Ciara and Dennis at the time the survey was conducted skewed the data.

“Contrary to existing literature, this exploration established that the public goods that farmers would most like to see subsidised did not differ from those of the general public except for the case of cultural heritage”.

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