March 30: Don’t overlook rural economy

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THE IMPORTANCE of farming to the natural environment is highlighted by a 10-year research project undertaken by the University of Hull and other academic institutions. It reveals how the ecosystem in the upland areas of North Yorkshire, and further afield, is enhanced by the grazing of both cattle and sheep at relatively low densities.

Although these findings are not the most revelatory, the level of scientific detail should not be dismissed if the countryside – Britain’s best natural asset – is to continue flourishing at a time when the agricultural industry is facing a raft of new challenges, not least the Rural Payments Agency’s latest foul-up over the computerised payment of EU subsidies.

Though rural affairs will not be a major factor in the election, with the exception of those Lib Dem-held seats in the South West and countryside constituencies in Scotland now being targeted by the SNP, the issue must not be dismissed out of hand. If Britain is to become more self-sufficient, and less reliant on food imports, it needs a sustainable agricultural industry.

As today’s report suggests, farmers are not just food producers. They are also custodians of the countryside and their resilience underpins the fabric of those rural areas that are so alluring to visitors.

However, the picture postcard scenery does not always equate to prosperity and probably explains why North Yorkshire does not feature prominently in Halifax’s annual Rural Areas Quality of Life Survey; the county is home to hidden pockets of poverty which are even deeper than levels of hardship recorded in urban areas and which have already come to fore in the election battle being waged by the Tories and Labour. However, irrespective of the final outcome, the UK’s political leaders need to remember this point: Britain’s finances do depend on a strong rural economy.

Morrisons boss makes his mark

AFTER beginning his tenureship of Morrisons with the purchase of shares worth more than £1m, newly-appointed chief executive David Potts is clearly intent on securing a significant return on his investment as he begins the transformation of the under-performing Yorkshire institution following the Dalton Philips era.

Mr Potts is clearly of the view that change must begin at the top. He has already disposed with the services of five senior directors and it has now emerged that other senior managers are to be culled – a move which will not only save money but also lead to more streamlined decision-making.

This change, a necessary one as Morrisons struggled to respond to systemic changes taking place in the supermarket sector following the emergence of discount retailers, follows on from two other decisions intended to win back former customers.

Not only have the fruit and vegetable ‘misting’ machines been discarded, but Mr Potts has also made clear that it should be down to individual managers – rather than a computer – to determine whether there are sufficient staff on the check-outs.

The instincts of Mr Potts certainly chime with those shoppers who want the store to return to the values espoused by its founder Sir Ken Morrison. The Bradford-based supermarket, still a notable business success story in spite of recent difficulties, was at its strongest when there was clear leadership – and when managers led from the front on the shop floor where they could respond to the needs of customers. If this is the intention of the new boss, it bodes well for the future.

Harry’s last stand

HARRY SMITH is a remarkable individual. Thanks to his passionate speeches, and specifically those about the primitive health conditions in his poverty-stricken home town of Barnsley prior to the inception of the NHS, the 92-year-old enjoys a bigger following on the internet and social media platforms than many politicians.

He attributes this to his unstinting belief in democratic process and fears that young people are becoming disengaged because of serial rebels like comedian Russell Brand who have been misusing their celebrity status to discourage the impressionable from voting.

On the day David Cameron travels to Buckingham Palace to formally begin the May 7 election campaign, Brand is refuted by Yorkshire’s nonagenarian who is now using his lifetime of experience to implore the young to vote, even if it is for ‘none of the above’. His are wise words that need to be heeded – democracy will be the biggest loser if apathy prevails.