HAVING overlooked the countryside’s economic importance and significance during its 13-year reign, it is to Labour’s credit that Wakefield MP Mary Creagh – the Shadow Environment Secretary – is to co-ordinate a new blueprint for the rural economy as part of Ed Miliband’s policy reviews that are, belatedly, taking shape.
Provided that there is real substance to this exercise, and that it is not a short-term political ploy to maximise the coalition’s discomfort over the aborted plan to sell-off the nation’s forests, it should help to better inform the policy debate as rural Yorkshire comes to terms with the spending cuts.
This exercise might also prompt the Government to raise its game and recognise that the UK tourism industry can only fulfil its potential if there is an adequate infrastructure in place.
Such assurances cannot be provided at present. For, as new figures reveal that foreign visitors contribute £2bn a year to coastal resorts, the Rural Services Network is warning that local authority budget cuts is leading to vital services being abolished and above-inflation increases in other charges like parking.
Yet, while there is considerable scope for efficiency savings at the larger, metropolitan councils with annual budgets running into the hundreds of millions, there is less flexibility at smaller councils because they, invariably, have much smaller administrative functions.
It is a point that Ministers need to recognise. For, while the surge in foreign visitors is particularly welcome, such tourists are unlikely to return to Yorkshire’s resorts, or national parks, if they are not properly maintained. Belatedly, Labour now recognises this – and it is now incumbent upon the Tories and Liberal Democrats, parties that previously championed rural communities, to do likewise.