Policy makers are not doing enough to address the needs and interests of rural communities including farm businesses. That’s the view of the NFU in giving evidence to the House of Lords Select Committee on the Natural Environment and Rural Communities (NERC) Act 2006. The committee is taking evidence on whether the Government has a coherent rural vision and how it can better deliver on policy decisions for people living in remote areas of the UK.
The NFU says Defra needs to be more effective and has recommended the department looks to collate and coordinate the evidence base needed to better inform Government policy. The NFU thinks that if the evidence had already been in place, there could have been more informed and rural-focused solutions established to ensure rural needs, such as broadband connectivity, are met.
NFU Vice President Guy Smith, who gave evidence to the Select Committee today, said: “My experience of meeting officials in various Government departments on different issues varies greatly. I’m into BIS and DCMS to talk about broadband, I’m into DCLG to talk about planning and I’m into the Home Office to talk about labour and rural crime as well as visiting Defra frequently on all the issues that affect our members. Sometimes you do find joined-up thinking and an understanding of the impacts on farming – sometimes the issues just fall between departments instead of being picked up.
“For 45 years we have had policies being devised and constructed in Brussels, implementing successive CAP reforms driven from the European stage. Now we are on the cusp of huge change. Farming will be the most impacted industry in a post-Brexit world. We will have an agricultural policy devised and constructed in Whitehall. I am convinced if the right decisions are made we will have a flowering of rural areas, a flowering of the farming industry – we could be producing more of our food needs. However, with the wrong polices we could end up importing more food where standards are different.
Mr Smith also emphasised that the way Countryside Stewardship was being delivered was causing concern. Incorrect and late application packs, an overcomplicated system and rumours of extremely delayed payments is clearly stopping farmers taking up the scheme, he said.
“Farming lies at the heart of our countryside and rural communities deliver for our economy, our wellbeing and our environment. The food and farming industry contributes £109 billion to the national economy and provides jobs for around four million people; farmers manage more than 70% of the UK landscape, protect wildlife, water and soils and help achieve climate change targets.
“And British farmers produce safe and affordable food to the high standards the public expects.
“Going forward, all departments across Government should have responsibility for rural proofing including how they evidence and develop policies and how they engage with stakeholders and ensure they have sufficient knowledge about rural economies and communities interests.
“Politicians must know the impact of their policies on those being affected – they need to be finding out what’s happening ‘on the ground’. There needs to be an understanding of the needs of the rural and agricultural community backed up by comprehensive surveys done in a robust way.”