Listen to the rural voices

THE countryside is integral to Yorkshire's economy. If rural areas are allowed to slump, then the entire county will suffer.

Yet the coalition has struggled to grasp this vital lesson and its creation of local enterprise partnerships (LEPs) risks throwing away many of the benefits generated by the outgoing regional development agencies (RDAs). It is a problem which must be tackled swiftly.

The RDAs, such as Yorkshire Forward, were justly criticised for some of their expenditure but few would deny the impact they had on regenerating rural economies. Their very size meant they were well-placed to stimulate growth in the countryside at the same time as helping city centre companies.

LEPs cannot provide an adequate replacement, whatever the well-intentioned efforts of the business and political leaders behind them. These new organisations lack the budget and the infrastructure to lead rural communities out of recession and the likelihood is that their grants will be more geared to major capital projects and urban areas, rather than the smaller-scale investments needed in the countryside.

The likely upshot, a widening of the divide between town and country, will put jobs at risk just as Britain is trying to get back on its feet.

This is particularly important in Yorkshire, where rural business people, from farmers to cheese-makers to weavers and so many more, contribute so much. It is yet more evidence that LEPs were conceived in a hurry while the coalition pushed through its abolition of RDAs. It was only recently that the Regional Food Group warned that LEPs are ill-equipped to promote food and farming, which is needed for the region to remain Britain's largest food and drink producer.

The coalition has begun to realise that the speed with which it makes wholesale cuts to the public sector creates deep concern among villages and hamlets far from Westminster. Of course, Ministers had little choice to make deep cuts, given Labour's appalling economic inheritance, but that will never justify the neglect of rural communities. They must pause and take time to listen to the rural enterprises which do so much to power Yorkshire and Britain.