The House of Lords Committee’s scathing report over the repeated failure of successive governments to support rural communities is a damning indictment not only of Defra, but also the Whitehall policymakers who have failed to grasp the importance of the countryside to the British way of life and the success of its economy.
Rather than protect the natural environment and promote the needs of our precious rural areas, which the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006 was meant to do, the committee concludes that 12 years of underfunding and diminished resources have had a deeply damaging effect on the social and economic welfare of our towns and villages not to mention England’s flora and fauna.
Its members are so concerned by this failure to prioritise rural affairs they have recommended that responsibility for rural policy should be transferred from Defra to the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government.
However, rather than acknowledging these failings, the Government issued a glib statement insisting that “the needs of our rural communities sit at the heart of everything we do,” adding that it was “driving forward high-speed broadband in the most hard to reach areas” and increasing housing availability.
This is far removed from the experiences of many hard-pressed communities, including here in Yorkshire, that have had to contend with poor broadband connections, dwindling public services and a paucity of decent jobs, not to mention insufficient affordable housing, all of which has led to an exodus of young families to our big towns and cities.
Rural communities are the backbone of this country. It’s time this was recognised and they were given the support they deserve. Ministers cannot say they haven’t been warned.