Rural revival

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ALTHOUGH rural affairs were given scant mention in the Autumn Statement, the issue’s importance to Yorkshire must never be under-estimated.

As well as the countryside being home to pockets of deep poverty, it is also this region’s greatest natural resource and, with the right policies, can contribute even more to the economy.

Given this, it is welcome that Ministers are to create a network of rural hubs to ensure that the Government’s various enterprise bodies and schemes do not exacerbate, still further, the economic divide between urban areas and the countryside.

And, as this idea has been instigated by Barry Dodd, the chairman of the York, North Yorkshire and East Riding Local Enterprise Partnership, it would be disappointing if this policy was not nurtured locally.

Many firms, and areas, will also benefit from the Government’s renewed push on internet broadband, and the venture to promote Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, like the Howardian Hills, which invariably find themselves playing second fiddle to the National Parks.

That said, Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman’s briefing did lack some clarity – there is a danger that the Government’s default response to every challenge is to set up a new funding stream where rival bodies bid for limited money.

Yet the danger is that this process becomes so convoluted that it starts to undermine policies on tourism and so forth. Take Welcome to Yorkshire. It has made a significant contribution to the economy’s vitality, but one of this region’s growth industries and success stories could now be undermined by the Government’s new approach to funding. As such, the onus is on Mrs Spelman to help rural areas fulfil their potential. For, if she does, the whole country will benefit in turn.