A silenced voice
The Commission for Rural Communities, although frequently ignored by Labour throughout their 13 years in power, fought hard as a voice for the countryside and highlighted many of the challenges being faced, such as affordable housing, public transport and the demand for high-speed broadband.
However it bit the dust when Defra was asked to make more than £160m of cuts and now the Government must prove it can develop policies that help and show understanding of rural communities, particularly at a time when they are being squeezed by stagnant wages and the rising cost of living, especially rocketing fuel costs.
The Tories, long assumed to be the party of the countryside, claim that by bolstering the Rural Communities Policy Unit in Defra, the work of the CRC will be covered. The Government are also looking at using outside bodies to assess and evaluate their work, while pointing to the many rural constituencies represented by their MPs.
While hopefully this will lead to a better balance of argument at the Cabinet table and in the House of Commons, there is concern that simply opening up Government to listening to lobby groups or backbenchers is not the same as a clearly defined vision and strategy.
The Government is making the right noises and there are signs – such as the £15m for six pilot Rural Growth Networks offering incentives to business – that, at last, rural affairs are battling their way back up the agenda.
Now more drastic action is also required. A temporary cut in fuel duty for remote areas of rural Yorkshire would show there is serious intent behind the rhetoric.