Monday, 20 April 2015

Rural issues: what the political parties have to say >>> regional hustings @ Westpoint >>> Thursday 23rd April

This blog has given overviews of the political parties' policies in two key areas:
Futures Forum: Energy round-up: what are the UK parties’ policies?
Futures Forum: Affordable housing: the political parties' policies >>> an overview

The BBC gives a useful guide to all the areas:
Policy guide - Election 2015 - BBC News

Here is its look at the parties' manifesto promises for the countryside:
Policy guide - Rural affairs - BBC News

Here is an analysis from today from the Rural Services Network:

Rural Services Network

Monday, 20 April 2015 11:13

Political manifestos under scrutiny

Written by  Ruralcity Media
Political manifestos under scrutiny
PLEDGES made by the main political parties ahead of the general election are a mixed bag for rural communities, says the Rural Services Network.
The Rural Services Network analysed manifestos published by the three main political parties ahead of the election on 7 May.
Network research director Brian Wilson assessed pledges contained in the Conservative, Labour and Lib Dem manifestos against the Rural Services Network's own election manifesto.
The full analysis can be downloaded here.
"Policies can be viewed as helpful for different reasons," said Mr Wilson.
"In many cases the extent to which policies would actually benefit rural communities or businesses is going to be dependent on rural proofing and, hence, their subsequent design and delivery."
He added: "There is certainly some evidence that the 'asks' in the RSN manifesto have influenced policy thinking, though of course we would have liked to see more."
All of three party manifestos had a lot to say about house building and affordable housing.
"It has become a hot topic," said Mr Wilson.
"While the particular rural dimension to housing affordability is not explicitly recognised, some of the policies proposed match RSN asks or would help address rural concerns."
All three parties intend to protect the Winter Fuel Payment for pensioners, which RSN sees as critical. In two cases, this protection does not extend to higher rate taxpayers.
But not all rural issues receive the attention that the RSN believes they deserve.
"It is perhaps disappointing that local transport is not widely featured as a high priority in the manifestos. It seems fair to say the exception to this is the Liberal Democrat manifesto.
"Only one of the three party manifestos refers directly to funding allocations to local authorities.
"That is the Labour manifesto which is quite vague in referring to fairness, but this could be seen as implying a larger share for northern cities."

Political manifestos under scrutiny

This is from the Countryside Alliance:

General Election 2015 - we bring you a summary of main party manifestos

The main political parties have now published their manifestos ahead of the General Election on 7th May. We have been through each manifesto in order to bring you each party's rural commitments according to our own campaigning priorities, as set out in our own manifesto. Click here to find out what each party plans in terms of food & farmingdigital communicationswildlife managementservices and communities & housing. We are running an e-lobby where you can ask your parliamentary candidates to back our manifesto - click here to take part and please feed back any responses from your candidates toelection@countryside-alliance.org 
Many of the issues identified in the Countryside Alliance’s election manifesto have been picked up by the political parties in their manifestos. Commitments on housing, broadband, food labelling and protecting the Royal Mail’s Universal Service Obligation are all welcome, as is the recognition of the importance of food and farming to the countryside and the UK economy.
Clearly we also welcome the Conservative commitment to protect hunting, shooting and fishing and to give Parliament the opportunity to repeal the Hunting Act. It is however, regrettable that Labour has taken the opportunity to single out shooting in the context of wildlife crime, something which cannot be justified on the evidence, and has pledged to "defend" the Hunting Act, whatever that means. Meanwhile the Green Party has launched an all-out attack on country sports. The UKIP manifesto contains no reference at all to hunting, shooting or any other wildlife management issues. Similarly, the Liberal Democrats are silent on the issue of wildlife management. There is clearly much misinformation and misunderstanding among politicians about shooting and its importance to the countryside in environmental and economic terms.
Whatever the outcome of the General Election on 7th May there will be much to do not only to ensure that policies deliver for rural people but also that the interests of those who manage our countryside are protected.

General Election 2015 - we bring you a summary of main party manifestos - Countryside Alliance

Several rural organistations have put together their own 'manifestos':

Rural Community Network

Rural Community Network - Home

Here is a thorough overview from the Rural Bulletin:

General Election 2015: How the results could affect farming and the countryside

In case you hadn’t noticed, politicians are desperately touting for your vote on 7 May. What are they offering the countryside?
You may have made up your mind already, but if you’re wavering Knight Frank’s Residential Research team has looked at how each of the main parties stand on some key property issues.
My colleague Grainne Gilmore has just released an amazing report on our Global Briefing blog that looks in detail at housing policies, while over here on The Rural Bulletin we’re taking a look at countryside and farming topics.
At the end of last year I asked ministers or spokesmen from  the Conservatives, Labour, the Liberal Democrats and UKIP to sum up in a few words why they deserved the rural vote. Their abridged responses were originally published in the winter edition of our Rural Report magazine, but you can see their full responses below.
The promises unsurprisingly get bolder the further a party appears to be from winning power, but in this new era of coalition government who knows what sway even the smallest parties will hold!

The Conservatives
George Eustice MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Farming, Food and the Marine Environment
This Conservative-led government has made promoting rural growth and removing the barriers to the success of our farming industry its central objective.  We do not see farming as an old, declining industry we could possibly do without as I believe the last government did.  
In fact, food and farming is a vital, dynamic industry, which contributes £100bn to the economy and employs one in eight people. It’s our largest manufacturing sector – bigger than cars and aerospace combined. The UK has always led the world in agricultural technology and we are determined to restore the status of farming in this country.
Since 2010, we have removed hundreds of regulations, we are slashing the volume of Defra guidance by 80%, have expanded earned recognition so that those farmers with a track record of good management receive fewer inspections and we have made funds available to support farm businesses seeking to diversify to add value to their produce or to improve their competitiveness.  
We have also championed our top-quality produce around the world, working hard to open up more than 600 new markets in over 100 countries, including pork to China and beef to the USA. The value of our food and drink exports has increased by £1.2bn in the last four years.
A future Conservative government would seek to build on what has been achieved.  As the world economy grows there will be growing demand for the food we produce. We need to produce more food sustainably and that will require the next leap forward in technology. That is why we will continue to develop new agricultural technologies through our agri-tech fund.  We will also seek to further reduce the burden of regulation and inspections and to do more to promote agriculture as a career choice so that we have new entrants and new enterprises to bring vibrancy and innovation to the countryside.
Huw Irranca-Davies MP, Shadow Food & Farming Minister
Labour has always recognised the importance of land-owners to a sustainable countryside and rural economy. But – like the countryside – the policy and political context changes, so a future Labour government will work with landowners and other rural stakeholders to meet new and pressing challenges.
These challenges include the need to reverse the stagnation in food productivity, whilst at the same time reversing the losses in habitat and biodiversity. Doing both will require a renewed and determined focus on innovation in agriculture and horticulture,  and the same relentless focus on the environment. There will be no trade-off between food security and the natural world under Labour. Both are critical to our future well-being.
We also need to ensure that all who are involved in the land share in the wealth created, so as we see economic growth the proceeds are distributed fairly. That means landowners playing their part in progressively lifting the low wages and earnings which can be characteristic of certain sectors of the rural economy. But it also means investment in skills and training, so that young people see land-based work and careers as an attractive option.
In times of austerity (especially) we have to make public spending go further, delivering more for each taxpayer pound invested in land-ownership. Landowners have a crucial role to play in soil and water quality improvements, waste management, carbon-reduction, energy generation, water-catchment management and flood alleviation, improvements to access to the countryside, and so much more. Financial signals need to be accurately aligned to reward contribution towards these public goods, as well as – for example – food production.
These are only some of the key policy themes that Labour will pursue, and we will do so working with landowners and land managers. But there is also a wider rural agenda, which is equally important to the viability of rural communities, and to tackling rural inequality.
Greater local and regional collaboration – together with further devolution of powers and decision-making – will be key to empowering rural communities to set their own priorities on economic and community regeneration, jobs and growth, affordable housing and transport, tackling social and financial exclusion, and much more. In straitened economic times, that combination of devolution and partnership work will help the resilience of rural communities and promote growth.
Labour will work with you, to make a countryside that works for everyone, not the few.
The Liberal Democrats
Roger Williams MP, DEFRA Backbench Spokesman
Elected Liberal Democrats represent many rural areas and especially the uplands. We are optimistic about the future for people living and working in the countryside, but realise that investment time scales can and must be over longer periods of time.
We support direct payments to farmers because they face massive challenges through commodity price volatility and more extreme weather events that will occur more frequently. 
The UK received a relatively generous allocation of Pillar I in the latest CAP reform, but disastrously low Pillar II funding. This was because historic considerations were taken into account even though the settlement was meant to be based on current criteria.
This meant there was great pressure to maximise the movement of funds from Pillar I to Pillar II to meet the expectations of conservation bodies to roll out environmental schemes and support improving the competitiveness of farming and rural businesses. 
As a result, direct payments, in particular to hill farmers, have been reduced. Those farming upland areas are particularly vulnerable to commodity price volatility both on the input and output sides. Liberal Democrats in the short term will look to find ways through the Rural Development Programme and other funding streams to support hill farmers. In the longer term we will ensure a better Pillar II allocation so that the call for high rates of modulation will be reduced.
The IT revolution was meant to put rural areas on an equal footing to urban areas in having the ability to compete for business.  In fact the countryside has always lagged behind, so what should have been an advantage has turned into a drawback. While we welcome national and local government incentives to “catch up” Liberal Democrats will ensure that further advances in IT technologies are delivered to rural areas at the same time as urban competitors.
Housing has always been a problem for local workers and families in the countryside.  Liberal Democrats will work with Local Authorities and Housing Associations to roll out best practice to encourage affordable housing in both the rented and owner occupier sectors.  Working with mortgage providers suitable 106 agreements will be fashioned to allow them to provide finance while restricting the occupancy of houses to local people.
Jobs are key to a thriving local economy so planning policies must be designed to allow small scale development for growing businesses making sure that new entrants can have a start in farming and that succession can be encouraged to give young people more responsible roles in their family farms.  Share farming, contract farming and landlord/tenant models will help encourage young people to make farming their career choice and will be supported.
Farm Business Tenancies have encouraged land to be rented out but short term tenancies are not helpful to livestock farmers who have to take a longer perspective than arable businesses.  Liberal Democrats will encourage landlords to make land available on longer term tenancies in livestock areas.
UK Independence Party
Stuart Agnew MEP, Agricultural Spokesman
Every five years the UK’s voters have the opportunity to change the direction of the country. EU membership has acted as a ratcheting straitjacket on Party politics over the last forty years forcing Red and Blue alike to agree to policies initiated in Brussels.
Agriculture has been in this from the very start, with most decision makers having no experience of a National Agricultural Policy. In the early days, the CAP was undoubtedly very generous. However, changes forced by the WTO, a huge geographical expansion and ever increasing regulations are persuading many farmers to ask the hitherto un-askable: “Is it worth it anymore?”  
UKIP can offer what the others cannot. A UK based Single Farm Payment Scheme of £80/acre for lowland farms (£64 SDA – £11 Hill/Moorland). The recipient would be required to farm to ELS standard (2013 rules). No cross-compliance, no EFA, no three-crop rule. The payment would be capped at £120,000, which may create some tenancies for new entrants.
Compulsory EID would be abolished; the ban on carcase burial would be abolished (apart from near watercourses);  livestock units would be removed from IPPC regulations;  white asbestos–cement sheets (chrysotile) would be de-classified as hazardous; a science-based approach would be taken to ascertain safe levels of nitrogen in groundwater, and a ‘risk’ approach would replace the ‘hazard’ approach pertaining to the safety of materials – no EU re-registration required for agrochemicals manufactured to British safety standards;
The Climate Change Act would be repealed, abolishing emissions targets for CO2 and methane; ‘waste’ would be re-defined more sensibly; practical considerations would trump environmentalism regarding watercourse management; proper ‘country of origin’  labelling; stronger controls on bushmeat imports; badger culling permitted subject to veterinary advice;  live exports for slaughter would not be permitted, and a serious study would be commissioned into the humane eradication of the grey squirrel.
WTO rules would prevent the EU from raising tariff barriers against us and, in any case, our 63 million people are their largest export market.  Why vote against all this?
General Election 2015: How the results could affect farming and the countryside | The Rural Bulletin
We want your vote - The Rural Bulletin

And this is the view from the West Country:

Rural issues take centre stage at Election 2015 as groups set out their demands

By WMNPBowern | Posted: March 08, 2015

Rural campaigning groups are fighting for political advantage as country issues begin to dominate the 2015 general election campaign.

From the National Farmers’ Union to the League Against Cruel Sports, countryside organisations are lobbying to get their voices heard as they promote their own manifestos.

Many believe issues once seen as politically marginal will take centre stage on May 7 in the closest election for a generation.

As exclusively revealed by the Western Morning News, David Cameron has pledged the Tories to a free vote to overturn the hunt ban. The League Against Cruel Sports’ chief executive Joe Duckworth hit back. “We will campaign with MPs from all parties to defend and strengthen what is a very successful and popular piece of legislation,” he said yesterday.

From the badger cull to broadband and farming subsidies to transport, rural issues are taking centre stage.

Tim Bonner of the Countryside Alliance said rural people did not like being used as “political footballs” and urged politicians to stick to principle and evidence.

Rural groups are engaged in a furious battle for the backing of politicians as the 2015 general election approaches.

With everything to play for in the most open election for a generation, countryside groups are setting out their policy aims in the hope of persuading the parties to back them.

From the pro-hunting, shooting and fishing Countryside Alliance to the animal rights campaigners of the League Against Cruel Sports, candidates are being bombarded with policy initiatives on rural issues. The National Farmers’ Union and the Country Land and Business Association have also drawn up documents detailing their policy ‘wish-lists’ and are busily lobbying party leaders and candidates.

And as the political parties appear to move closer together on what would have once been battleground issues, it is the countryside and its management where some of the fiercest differences are seen.

Mr Bonner, director of campaigns for the Countryside Alliance said it was wrong for the countryside to be used as a political football – but that was the way the campaign was going so far. “The British countryside has been created by generations of farmers and land managers and is loved by the country as a whole,” he said. “It is the last thing that should be contentious or an arena for conflict but unfortunately rural issues have become increasingly politicised. Many people hoped that the hunting debate was an isolated case, but unfortunately it has set something of a precedent for rural and wildlife management issues.

“As the political parties have moved closer together on the big economic and social issues they sometimes seem to be searching the countryside for areas of difference. Rural people do not appreciate being used as political footballs and we call on all parties to deal with rural issues on the basis of principle and evidence.”

Paul Millard spokesman in the South West for the Country Land and Business Association (CLA) believes rural voters will hold the key to the election outcome in many areas. “This election is shaping up to be unlike any other in recent history and the rural vote across the South West could be a vital factor,” he said.

The CLA is organising regional political hustings at Exeter’s Westpoint Arena. The event is on Thursday April 23 – two weeks before polling day. “We want to hear where the parties stand on key questions relating to such things as animal and plant disease, planning and housing, communications and transport, energy production and food and farming,” Mr Millard said.

“From the farming and rural business perspective, there are clearly some big issues facing the next government and we will be asking representatives of the main parties questions how they plan to face up to the challenge of delivering proactive policies for a living and working countryside.”

Alex Stevens, South West National Farmers’ Union regional policy manager said the coming election could be one of the most important in recent memory. He said there were policy areas where the differences between the parties were clear –like the need to tackle bovine TB in wildlife or EU membership. But he said on other issues all parties could, in different ways, make a real difference to agriculture, such as permitted development rights, cutting red tape or business investment incentives.

He went on: “As part of our election activity we are holding hustings events for candidates as well as more informal ‘on farm’ meetings that can drill down beyond national policy to more localised issues. This intensive engagement will continue right up to the election and beyond as we look to forge relationships in the aftermath of the election”. He said the NFU meets politicians at fringe events around party conferences and the union’s Westminster office prepares briefings and information notes. “Crucially our network of group secretaries and county advisers facilitate constituency meetings with farmers and their MPs,” he added.

Meanwhile the League Against Cruel Sports, is pressing the political parties to take a stronger line on animal welfare – a key battleground in this election, after the Prime Minister insisted this week he would be bringing forward a Bill to repeal the Hunting Act.

Joe Duckworth, Chief Executive for the League, said: “We are a nation of animal lovers with a well-deserved reputation across the world for our compassion for animals and a hatred of cruelty, especially in the name of sport. “Independent polling shows that 80 per cent of the British public do not want to see a return to hunting with dogs so it would be political suicide for any government to fly in the face of such strong public opposition.”

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