|COUNTRY NEWS & VIEWS
[Week 48 · Nov. 27th - Dec. 3rd - 2000]
PAPER FINALLY ARRIVES
On Tuesday [Nov. 28th] John Prescott, the Deputy Prime Minister, rolled out his long awaited Rural White Paper. Entitled 'A Fair Deal For Rural Britain' the contents of the paper will go some way towards addressing the problems of the countryside and revitalising it, though the litmus test for many is whether it will tackle the crisis in farming itself.
Many of the government's measures for our countryside had already been hinted at in the media over the last few weeks, but now some figures were attached... Raising the number or market town farmers' markets to 400, from around 250 [not likely to significantly revitalise those towns one would have thought]; there will be some sort of rate rebates for shops, pubs and garages, with £270 million earmarked for the transformation of rural post offices into one-stop-shops with banking and some healthcare provision; the 'second home' council tax rebate has been effectively removed with local authorities now able to charge the full rate; there will be £192 million for rural transport [over 3 years], and £45 million more for rural policing [over 2 years]. Planning laws will also be amended, allowing disused barns and buildings to be turned into office space [possibly bringing much needed work to rural areas, both in the conversion process and in later staffing].
The government should be better informed about rural matters in the future too. The Countryside Agency will, in future, draw up an annual report on how government measures impact on the countryside and its people, while Ewan Cameron, the current Agency chairman will be the voice of the countryside working at the heart of government.
The government's measures are hardly likely to transform the countryside overnight. They are more of a toe in the water and do not address fundamental problems like the high pound. However, the paper is a start in the right direction and will make the lot of some rural communities a little bit better.
[Week 47 · Nov. 20th - 26th - 2000]
WHITE PAPER REPORTS
During the week The Daily Telegraph and Daily Mail reported on the government's long awaited Rural White Paper, saying that one of the proposals is to ease planning restrictions to allow development on farmland.
Although this may help many farmers overcome problems with real farm incomes through the sale of land to developers it will inevitably worry rural communities on the fringe of towns and major conurbations where there is pressure to build more housing.
On Saturday [Nov. 26th] the Country Landowners Association welcomed Nick Brown's announcement that charges for meat inspection at abattoirs will be based on the number of cattle slaughtered rather than on a time basis. This would bring the UK's costs into line with the rest of the EU, but too late for many small and medium sized abattoirs who have gon out of business.
On the same day the CLA launched a new farm trading website - CLA Farm & Estate Link - at the Royal Smithfield Show in London. It is hoped the on-line service will help farmers access discounted goods through bulk purchasing, and provide regular savings on inputs.
[Week 46 · Nov. 13th - 19th - 2000]
END OF THE TRAIL...
The long expected calamity surrounding another fuel protest failed to materialise on Tuesday 14th, with the Chairman of Farmers For Action, David Handley, stepping down from his role as chairman of the People's Fuel Lobby. The previous week Brynle Williams - who had been one of the leaders in the original fuel protest - had called for matters to be dealt with in negotiations and not through more protests.
At least the government appears to have taken notice of the problems high fuel tariffs are causing to some of Britain's communities; most notably in rural areas which are highly dependent on cars for getting around in the absence of public transport. Time, and the ballot box, will deliver the verdict on this matter.
On Friday [Nov. 17th] The Independent reported that a senior ecologist working for English Nature had claimed that our old orchards have been ignored when conservationists have drawn up biodiversity plans; yet these mature orchards contain a host of species, from bees and moths, to bats, badgers and bullfinches. Readers may remember over the years the news stories of how unprofitable orchards have been torn up for development land and other crops.
Later in the week the NFU expressed its concerns over a ban on French beef in the UK, explaining that there is a large export market for British sheep in France, while there could be increased imports of beef from Ireland where there has been a rise in the number of BSE incidents.
[Week 45 · Nov. 6th - 12th - 2000]|
LONG AWAITED RESPONSE
Never far from the surface during the week has been news of the fuel protesting hauliers and farmers - due to demonstrate in London on Tuesday 12th. At the beginning of the week there were reports that one of the leading figures of the FFA [Farmers For Action] in the north-east had received death threats. By Wednesday the Chancellor delivered his message on the matter of fuel tax in pre-Budget speech... freezes on fuel duties, small cuts in duties on low sulphur petrol from next year, and removal of vehicle tax for agricultural vehicles and tractors. The cuts did not go far enough for many in the farming community who urgently need a reduction in day-to-day running costs of the vehicles.
However, at the end of the week one of the leading lights in the original fuel protests, farmer Brynle Williams, called for an end to the protests and to continue the dialogue with government. Meanwhile, farmer David Handley, one of the main spokesmen for People's Fuel Lobby seemed determined to go ahead with another protest which would culminate in Hyde Park on Tuesday 14th.
Over the Channel in France, BSE reared its head again as President Chirac called upon the French government to ban beef on the bone, many schools and restaurants having removed beef from their menus already. At the same time there were calls for a ban on feeding animals with feed containing cattle remains. Somehow one feels that the French are about to go where British farmers and public have been for several years.
And The Times reported a new usage of the Internet in Italy... the offer of adopting your own sheep for a year at the cost of about one hundred pounds. If owners don't become too attached to their fluffy friend when the allotted time is up they can eat their purchase.
[Week 44 · Oct. 30th - Nov. 5th - 2000]
We could dwell upon the dreadful weather of this last week and resultant misery caused to thousands of households around the country, but probably most of our readers are well enough versed in those events so we will move on...
One major story to hit the headlines during the week has been the call by the Food Standards Agency - FSA - for action on 'scrapie' in the national flock, lest this is masking BSE within sheep. The diseases are similar and there is the prospect of the entire national flock being slaughtered if BSE were found in sheep. The proposal is to breed scrapie resistance into the national flock over the forthcoming years, although some observers have pointed out that this could lead to the extinction of much rarer sheep breeds which may carry genetic resistance to other diseases and disorders which are currently not a problem.
Readers who have been following the battle of wills between Welsh lamb farmers and the MoD will be pleased to hear that the Services are about to take delivery of the first consignments in a 200 tonne order for British lamb (representing approximately one fifth of the MoD's requirements). Back in Spring this year it was reported that the MoD bought only 1% of its lamb needs from Britain, which caused an outcry among hard-pressed farmers. So indignant were some Welsh farmers at this revelation that they banned the Army from carrying out military exercises on their land.
Rural housing hit the headlines again. This time Independent seemed to have got its hands on a leaked copy of the Rural White Paper (the contents of which are due to be announced soon) which apparently shows the government is seriously thinking about helping provide affordable, subsidised new homes for country people, particularly for younger country dwellers and those with families. This is a very welcome move and should be applauded and, hopefully, will address distorted rural demographics where second-home ownership frequently forces house prices beyond the means of local people, particularly the young. Let's just hope the new houses aren't built on water meadows and other unsuitable ground.