MP to highlight ‘negative impact’ of coalition policies

THE rural economy is facing a £9m hit as a result of the Government’s dash to kill off a string of quangos, Labour will claim today.

Coalition policies are having a “huge negative impact” on the countryside according to Shadow Environment Secretary Mary Creagh.

The Wakefield MP has uncovered a Government document in which Ministers admit that axing the Agricultural Wages Board, which sets pay levels for 140,000 farm workers, could mean £9m less being spent in the rural economy.

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The decision to close the Board, which the Government says is outdated and no longer needed, will mean thousands of already poorly paid workers will face having to work for less while there will no longer be a minimum level of pay for children helping out on farms. It is one of dozens of quangos being axed because the Government wants to cut costs and improve accountability.

“So much unfairness in an industry where four out of five workers has no company pension scheme for their retirement,” Ms Creagh will tell delegates in her conference speech today.

“The government calculates it’ll take £9m a year of spending power out of the village high street.

“That’s not the plan B the economy needs, that’s the same old Tory unfairness and we are not going to let the AWB be scrapped without a fight.”

Ms Creagh will also renew criticism of the Government’s decision to close down the Commission for Rural Communities, the independent voice for the countryside, and will make the audacious claim that Labour is now the true custodian of rural England.

She said Labour had “allowed narrative to develop” during the party’s time in power that they were “somehow against the countryside, which we weren’t” but admitted issues like the chaotic handling of foot and mouth and the hunting ban had alienated rural voters.

Speaking ahead of the speech she also unleashed a scathing attack on Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman whom she accused of showing “political naivety” for having agreed to accept a 30 per cent cut in department spending so quickly – one of the largest of any Government department.