Dr John Sentamu met council leaders and members of the farming industry yesterday when he visited the Ryedale district in North Yorkshire to discuss the intense pressures which many countryside communities are facing amid the ongoing economic crisis.
Efforts are already underway to increase wages in Ryedale which average less than £16,500-a-year - the lowest in the region and below the national average. Ryedale District Council is looking to introduce a so-called Living Wage, which is a calculated according to the basic cost of living in the UK.
But Dr Sentamu claimed there needs to be greater investment in attracting new enterprise and boosting job opportunities in the rural economy with concerns that investment is being too heavily slanted towards the nation’s major towns and cities.
The Archbishop said: “We must do more to help people in poverty wherever they live. It is important that we do not forget people living in rural communities who are going through tough times at the moment.
“Here in Ryedale we have some of the lowest average wages in the country - we need to see more investment and support for our agricultural communities.
“I am pleased to hear today that Ryedale District Council is moving towards a Living Wage for all its workers as well as looking to provide more affordable housing for young people in the area.
“It is important that we do everything possible to ensure food, fuel and housing is affordable for those in our rural areas - it is great when local authorities like Ryedale take a lead on such important issues.”
The Archbishop, who met staff and politicians at Ryedale District Council’s headquarters in Malton, warned that the Government’s legislation is not being tailored enough to take into account countryside communities and called for a “fair price to be paid” to farmers for their produce.
The council’s chairman, Coun Eric Hope, claimed the Archbishop’s visit had presented the opportunity to discuss some of the most pressing issues facing the district while also explaining how the authority is working with residents to make a “real, positive difference to their lives”.
Dr Sentamu also visited staff at the agricultural cooperative BATA in Amotherby yesterday afternoon. The company, which has 4,000 shareholders and 150 employees, supplies farmers and the rural community with a wide variety of goods and services, including animal feeds which is manufactured at Amotherby as well as fertiliser, seed and fencing equipment.
BATA’s chief executive, Steven Clarke, said the Archbishop’s interest in farming rural and farming communities is “recognised and appreciated”.
The need to boost job opportunities and diversify the economic foundations of Ryedale have been pinpointed as among the most pressing issues by the district council’s leader, Coun Linda Cowling, who was appointed to the top political job at the authority in January.
The latest data from the National Housing Federation has shown that the average house price in the Ryedale district is £223,080, while the average wage is just £16,442.
Coun Cowling stressed that while it is vital to preserve traditional industries such as farming and tourism, there is a growing need to diversify the economic base to take advantage of new enterprise in North Yorkshire.
The majority of a £1m windfall secured under the Government’s New Homes Bonus scheme has been earmarked for boosting job opportunities across Ryedale, which has a population of just under 54,000 living across 575 sq miles.
But the authority is facing up to intense challenges amid the Government’s austerity drive with a seven per cent reduction in its grant from Westminster in the new financial year on its current revenue budget of £6.9m.