Successive Whitehall administrations, Tory and Labour alike, have paid ‘lip service’ to a sector worth in excess of £260bn a year and which equates to over 15 per cent of England’s economy according to House of Lords research.
Yet this inertia, even indifference, masks huge policy challenges and social inequalities in countryside communities – the motivation behind the ongoing North Yorkshire Rural Commission.
And it also explains why the provision and delivery of rural services, including affordable housing and digital connectivity, in England’s largest county, should be the key determinant as Ministers decide North Yorkshire’s future governance.
Anything less will be a dereliction of duty from a London Government that continues to regard people living and working in rural areas as second class citizens – even though they, too, are taxpayers and voters.
The Yorkshire Post has long argued for all new policy to be rural-proofed at the outset and the content of Defra’s own website neglects the fact that it is supposedly the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs – the clue is actually in its name.
Yet, while some funding to spruce up market towns is being made available via so-called ‘levelling up’ funds, the processes put in place by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government are more akin to a lottery.
This, too, must change. Not only should all devolution deals include, by law, certain commitments to rural areas – East, South and West Yorkshire are all home to swathes of countryside – but the whole Government needs to recognise that the rural economy could contribute so much more if Ministers viewed it as an investment.
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