Rural communities failed by Whitehall – CA tells parliamentary inquiry

The Countryside Alliance has told a House of Lords inquiry that rural voices are not being listened to early enough when decisions are being made in Whitehall and called for political will to make ‘rural-proofing’ a reality.

Chief executive, Tim Bonner, and head of policy, Sarah Lee, gave evidence to a House of Lords committee which is considering all aspects of the rural economy in a special year-long inquiry.

Speaking in the committee meeting on Tuesday, (October 16) the pair used information from a survey of over 1,000 Countryside Alliance members and supporters which showed that 70% of respondents felt digital infrastructure was the most rural economy issue followed by the provision of services.

Bonner told the committee that the needs of rural communities are often an afterthought and needed to become an integral part of the policy process in Whitehall.

‘Rural-proofing’

He sighted the Offensive Weapons Bill, currently going through Parliament, as an example of the “lack of rural-proofing” as the proposal to end postal delivery of knives will have an impact on deer stalkers who use knives as part of their work along with small manufacturers who send these products via the postal market.

He also said that the UK’s new agricultural policy needed to recognise the strong link between farming and rural communities and called for the Agriculture Bill to include specific financial support for sustaining upland landscapes and communities.

Lee explained to the committee that more needed to be done to make land-based employment, such as farming, forestry and shooting, attractive to young people.

She pointed out that shooting employs 74,000 people, with many of these jobs being in rural areas, and called on the Government to support initiatives to get young people into rural employment such as the gamekeeping apprenticeship which the Countryside Alliance is helping to develop.

She also said that more needed to be done to ensure rural areas were able to meet the needs of those living and working there.

This included greater investment in the rollout of high-speed broadband which she described as “slow, patchy and inconsistent” in rural areas, and more focus on tackling crime in rural areas which is costing rural businesses £5,000 a year on average, up 13% from 2015.

Ms. Lee said: “The voices of rural communities must be heard and acted upon if we are going to tackle the growing divide between rural and urban areas.

Lack of affordable housing, poor digital connectivity and the growing fear of crime are just some of the concerns of rural communities.

“It is time to make rural-proofing a reality across Whitehall and deliver rural policy that meets the needs of those living and working in the countryside.”

The committee is continuing to take evidence and is expected to report in spring next year.