Dorothy Fairburn: New Year wishlist for a thriving rural economy in 2012

ACCORDING to the latest economic forecasts, it could take Yorkshire’s economy up to eight years to recover from the present downturn. Whether or not this is overly pessimistic remains to be seen but, regardless of how long it takes, small-to medium-sized rural businesses are undoubtedly facing a bumpy road to recovery.

To weather this financial storm, rural entrepreneurs will have to ensure their businesses can evolve and adapt to meet the needs of their customers. They will also require the support of the Government to make sure they have the tools to compete with their urban counterparts on an even footing.

So what are these tools that the CLA will be lobbying for in 2012 to bolster the region’s rural economy?

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Top of the “must have” list for the New Year has to be the delivery of a high-quality broadband service for rural businesses.

The CLA is calling for a universal service commitment of at least five megabits per second (Mbps) and progress is being made – but it is still not happening quickly enough.

The number of rural landowners losing commercial tenants simply because of a poor broadband connection continues to grow at an alarming rate.Up to 20 per cent of rural areas are still unable to receive an effective and affordable broadband connection of 2Mbps, let alone five.

Much has been written on the new National Planning Policy Framework and while there are still some areas of concern, it is a significant step forwards in enabling appropriate development to benefit the rural economy.

Ask any one of our hundreds of members who have tried to negotiate the current planning system and they will tell you it is not fit for purpose.

All too often, farmers and landowners trying to gain approval for small-scale schemes that could deliver a range of benefits – from improving business productivity and competitiveness through to creating jobs and building affordable homes – come up against insurmountable barriers.

The CLA will continue to work with the Government to ensure the new framework is not about paving over green belt land but about creating a system that promotes and supports sustainable rural development.

One issue the planning debate has highlighted is the dire need for a reduction in red tape across the entire SME sector. Some gains have already been made on this front in the farming industry with the introduction of the Farming Regulation Task Force, which has made 200 recommendations for cutting unnecessary red tape.

These include improvements in key areas such as planning, animal movements, farm inspections and Single Payment applications. In coming months, the CLA will be working closely with taskforce chairman Richard Macdonald to ensure that these recommendations are put in place as swiftly and efficiently as possible.

Of course the outcome of the current round of Common Agricultural Policy negotiations will have a huge impact on our farming members, which is why we have recently bolstered our head office lobbying team.

This will give the CLA a much stronger presence on the European stage and help ensure that Yorkshire farmers receive a fair share of support payments from the European pot.

The relationship between farmers and supermarkets continues to cause concern and the CLA has long argued for the appointment of a supermarket ombudsman to ensure that the major players do not abuse their position of power. We will be continuing to apply pressure to the Government to create this position and, most importantly, ensure it has the “teeth” to levy fines against major supermarkets that bully suppliers.

The cancellation of the 3p fuel duty increase for January was good news for rural businesses and the Government must now go further by bringing in a fuel discount scheme for the more remote parts of Yorkshire where a car is a necessity rather than just a luxury.

Despite the general gloom shrouding our region’s economy, there are many reasons to feel optimistic. Across Yorkshire our members are involved in a range of innovative and dynamic projects from “glamorous” camp sites through to cutting edge renewable energy projects.

In the Dales, CLA members Tom Orde-Powlett and Richard Bourne-Arton are spearheading a project to reintroduce salmon to the River Ure, which could generate a staggering £6m for the local economy. While this spirit of enterprise continues to flourish our region’s rural economy has much to look forward to in 2012.