Local elections 2022: Rural voters could punish Tories over lack of levelling up policies

Rural voters will punish the Conservative party at the polls unless committed and effective action is taken to help countryside communities, the Country Land and Business Association (CLA) has warned.

The CLA has provided research and funding for a new report by the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Rural Business and the Rural Powerhouse which has called on the Government to do more to ‘level up’ countryside locations.

Recent polling by Survation, commissioned by the CLA, recorded a 7.5 per cent swing away from the Conservatives in rural areas – putting them neck and neck with Labour.

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The polling in the UK’s five most rural counties, including North Yorkshire, found that 46 per cent of respondents had voted Conservative at the last General Election. But voter intention is now 36 per cent Labour and 38 per cent Conservative, representing a 7.5 per cent swing ahead of next week’s local elections.

Polling suggests rural voters are deserting the Conservative Party.Polling suggests rural voters are deserting the Conservative Party.
Polling suggests rural voters are deserting the Conservative Party.

The poll also found that 66 per cent of people did not believe that the Government was doing enough to create prosperity in rural communities.

A total of 80 per cent said that a lack of affordable housing was driving young people out of the countryside, with almost half (42 per cent) agreeing that their community was worse off economically, compared to five years ago.

Mark Tufnell, president of the CLA, said: “The country can no longer afford to ignore the potential of the rural economy and the prospects of the millions of people who live within it.

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“Rural businesses are ready to expand, creating good jobs and opportunities for people from all walks of life – but a lack of interest from government is holding them back.

“Homes are often unaffordable for local families. Well-paid jobs can be scarce. And broadband can be painfully slow.

“All this means leads to an exodus of talented people who are too often forced to move to more urban areas.”

On average rural jobs pay less than urban jobs, rural homes are less affordable than urban homes, and poverty is more dispersed in rural areas.

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The depth of rural fuel poverty is also more extreme than those facing similar circumstances in towns and cities.

The APPG’s report is intended to provide an “economic blueprint” for the countryside and has made a series of recommendations to Government to improve the current situation.

The policy reforms it suggests include changing the National Planning Policy Framework to prioritise small-scale, incremental development in rural areas, particularly those with populations under 3,000, with a focus on affordable housing.

It has also suggested that a ministerial-led, cross-departmental working group with the specific mission of developing and implementing measures to boost rural productivity is established and that Defra’s objectives are updated to include the issue of rural productivity.

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The report also recommends an extension of the Seasonal Workers Pilot to alleviate labour shortages affecting the agricultural industry.

The APPG has called for the number of visas made available under the scheme to be increased from 30,000 to 80,000. It also calls for the Government to provide vouchers for rural businesses to stimulate demand for skills training in the countryside.

Plea to hire more planning officers

The Government has been urged to spend £25m to hire an extra planning officer for every local authority in England and Wales.

The APPG’s report said one key challenge facing the countryside is the proper application of existing planning rules – driven in part by a lack of available officers to help make decisions.

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It said: “Planning departments have lost 60 per cent of staff since the financial crisis, making it harder to deliver planning objectives to the same level.

The APPG would like to see the Government provide additional funding to local authorities in England and Wales for an extra planning officer.”

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Local elections May 2022: What is at stake in my area of Yorkshire?

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