YP Comment: Hunt is on for a rural champion

The hunt is on for a rural champion.

The hunt is on for a rural champion.

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Fox hunting can create a false impression of countryside challenges

THE Boxing Day hunts, one of the great traditions of Christmas, will once again reopen the debate about the restrictions imposed by Tony Blair’s government after a decade of indecision – and whether they should be rescinded or not. It remains a source of mystery that so much Parliamentary time was devoted to coming up with such an unsatisfactory state of affairs when so little time, in contrast, was spent by MPs on the deployment of the Armed Forces in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Yet, while the imposing sight of the hunts gathering in Yorkshire’s market towns will attract tens of thousands of spectators in what the Countryside Alliance will hail as a show of defiance, it is important that this does not offer a false impression of rural Britain. Though the hunts remain integral to the country way of life, a point which continues to be ignored by their vociferous opponents from the cities and suburbs, there is far more to the rural economy than just hunting.

Despite British farm and food produce being the envy of the world, and the subject of a new and belated Government marketing campaign, there’s still a nagging belief that the Government is indifferent to the specific needs of countryside communities – affordable housing remains at a premium, broadband access is still a distant dream in some parts of rural Yorkshire and investment in flood defences remains inadequate.

These are just three issues. There are many more. However the response of Ministers to these concerns, and others, is spasmodic at best – it is as if the countryside is just a holiday home for the country’s urban elite. As such, it can only be hoped that Liz Truss remembers in 2016 that she is Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, and that this job should take precedence over her emerging political activities as George Osborne’s cheerleader ahead of the Tory leadership contest.

It is a privileged position and it can only bode well for the Northern Powerhouse, and Mr Osborne’s future career prospects, if the rural economy’s untapped potential is maximised in 2016. Yet, for that to happen, it requires a Minister who is prepared to champion all three elements of her crucial brief. Over to you, Ms Truss – Yorkshire expects.

Hand of friendship: 2016 must be a year of good deeds

AT A time when people reflect on the momentous events and iconic images which have shaped Yorkshire, Britain and the world in 2015, this newspaper draws particular pride from the extent to which attitudes on loneliness have begun to change thanks to our award-winning campaign.

Yet, while there is now widespread recognition in political circles about the need for the NHS and other services to recognise the specific needs of those people, often bereaved, who are living on their own and who are invariably too proud to ask for help, the challenge now is persuading more community groups and well-meaning individuals to offer the hand of friendship.

They can take their lead from the Yorkshire Dales and Moors Community Connect initiative which is providing support to the vulnerable, such as home visits, help with shopping and assistance with paperwork, following a £2m partnership between Land Rover and the Red Cross.

Just the reassurance that there are people who care, and willing to be called upon at a time of need, can make a lasting difference to the wellbeing of the lonely and isolated, especially those who live alone in remote rural communities.

In this respect, it can only be hoped that 2016 becomes a year of good deeds.

A nation of shoppers

HERE we go again. After the manic rush to Christmas, there was the nano-second of a pause before the manic rush resumes today with the traditional Boxing Day sales.

This frenzy makes a mockery of Napoleon’s assertion that Britain was “a nation of shopkeepers”. He was only partially right – the UK is now a nation of shoppers searching for the best bargains morning, noon and night as the major sales all blur into one.

Though this resurgent consumer confidence offers glad tidings to George Osborne, it does have its drawbacks – the independent shops, so long the backbone of the High Street, cannot keep up with the loss-leading sales strategies of the major chains and staff have to work on what was once a day for family gatherings and country walks. Two questions. What did happen to that special time when Christmas Day and Boxing Day were sacrosanct – and what does it say about modern life when people cannot survive for two days without going to the shops?

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