Tories to ‘fix’ town and country gap

THE Tories are pledging to “fix” an economic divide between rural and urban Britain as party activists head to Manchester for their annual conference.

Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman will use her conference speech tomorrow to promise that Ministers will “speak up” for rural businesses rather than simply relying on cities to create jobs in order to tackle a gulf as damaging as the North-South divide.

She will be one of the first Tories to take to the stage as David Cameron seeks to convince voters the Government will put the economy back on the road to recovery and hold out hope of brighter times ahead.

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The conference theme will be Leadership for a Better Future, with the Tories seeking to pitch the coalition’s refusal to sway from its economic plan to reduce the deficit against what they claim has been weak leadership from Labour’s Ed Miliband.

Tory co-chairman Sayeeda Warsi, the Dewsbury Peer, and Foreign Secretary William Hague, MP for Richmond, will both seek to rally activists with speeches tomorrow.

In an interview yesterday Baroness Warsi insisted the Government will stick to its plans despite Labour’s pressure to ease up on spending cuts and introduce a Plan B.

“We are going to stay the course,” she said. “It would be so easy for us to get the [Government’s] chequebook out and not make the tough calls.

“But ask people if they would prefer to have it easy now or, by taking tough decisions, create a better future for their children, most will instinctively choose to put their children first.”

The Tories will promise a “determined, fair and responsible” approach to the challenges facing the country in order to “get us through these tough times”.

In similar language to Mr Miliband last week they will declare an end to a “something for nothing” culture, but will also say dealing with the nation’s debt is the UK’s long-term national interest.

Labour will also be accused of failing to admit the full extent of their role in the economic crisis.

One of Ms Spelman’s key themes tomorrow will be around supporting growth in the rural economy.

She will say: “For far too long the economy of this country has been unbalanced. It is one of the factors that’s brought us to where we are today. But the imbalance isn’t simply North-South, it’s rural-urban. We have that in our sights are we are going to fix it.”

The Environment Secretary will point to measures like funding to extend broadband to rural areas, and a shake-up in rural development grants to support entrepreneurs.

She will say that the most important thing is that rural businesses will have “a government that speaks their language, and speaks up for them”.

Ms Spelman, who was forced into an embarrassing retreat earlier this year over plans to sell off parts of Britain’s forests – will seek to reassert the Tories’ claim to be the party of the countryside after Labour said last week that they now deserved that title.

Ministers know that boosting employment opportunities in rural areas in vital, not only in tackling the national benefits queue but also because of high levels of deprivation in some remote areas and fears that young people are having to desert rural areas to find work.

Better technology allows more people to work from home, while encouraging this behaviour could also help ease congestion on the roads and cut pollution.

The upbeat nature of the conference slogan at a time of economic crisis will bring back memories of Mr Cameron’s speech to the Tory conference in Blackpool as opposition leader in 2006 when he said: “Let sunshine win the day.”