Country comfort

WHATEVER the result of the General Election, there is common agreement that an age of austerity awaits. The Commission for Rural Communities is right, therefore, to highlight the specific effects that a new era of public-spending cuts will have on the countryside.

In particular, the Commission is right to point out that a change in procurement policies by local authorities, schools and hospitals, and a commitment to doing business locally, will not only save public money, but will also help to keep farmers and other rural businesses going at a time when they will need all the help they can get.

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Indeed, such a policy should dovetail with the Government's own recently announced food strategy which emphasised that Britain's projected population growth, combined with the likelihood of natural disasters and commodity-price spikes, will put enormous pressure on the country's ability to feed itself.

What, then, is the Government doing to safeguard the future of rural businesses in the trying times ahead? The answer is precious little. In spite of repeated good intentions, there has been no reform of labelling so as to inform consumers clearly where their food has been produced. And far from advising people to buy locally wherever possible, official Defra advice remains not to do so, in case this should harm the incomes of farmers in developing countries.

Without clear leadership from the top, therefore, it is hardly surprising that schools and hospitals continue to produce meals cooked entirely from imported ingredients and that local councils look to their own bottom line rather than the good of the communities they purport to represent.