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CLA monthly column: Politicians ‘must unlock potential of countryside’

14:00 10 August 2014

The CLA East advisory team (left to right): Tim Woodward, Regional Surveyor; Maisie Jepson, Rural Advisor; Nicola Currie, Regional Director; and Claire Wright, Regional Surveyor.

The CLA East advisory team (left to right): Tim Woodward, Regional Surveyor; Maisie Jepson, Rural Advisor; Nicola Currie, Regional Director; and Claire Wright, Regional Surveyor.

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The next Government will need to deliver a proactive approach to the countryside and recognise the importance of rural-based businesses in order to fully utilise the power of the rural economy, writes CLA eastern regional director Nicola Currie.

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While the 2015 General Election may seem far away for many, it looms large on the political horizon and that is why the CLA has published its own manifesto – Unlock the Countryside’s Potential. The association is in a unique position to advise the next Government on how it might best unlock the social, economic and environmental benefits of the countryside – it’s important to note that our members own or manage around half the rural land in England and Wales and run over 250 types of business.

The CLA is apolitical and its policy work is shaped by members, forward-thinking and underpinned by a recognised understanding of rural issues and opportunities. The manifesto considers the contribution rural landowners and businesses make to the social, environmental and economic benefit of the nation, offering 76 key recommendations across the areas of property and ownership, landscape and farming, environment and natural resources, and business and technology.

We want to help political candidates fighting for your votes in the eastern region, and beyond, to achieve a better understanding of the countryside so there is a greater chance of those elected being able to effect real change when they take their places in the House of Commons. Access to effective, efficient, and affordable broadband is essential to the successful operation of all rural businesses – without it they cannot compete with their urban-based counterparts.

In rural communities, with no affordable broadband, a technology-reliant, younger generation is becoming educationally and socially disadvantaged. We are calling on the Government to create a universal service obligation of at least 10Mbps so that rural businesses don’t just have access to broadband, they get good quality broadband. There are more businesses per head of population in predominantly rural areas than in predominantly urban ones – yet Government policies often favour urban and incorporated businesses.

It is essential this is addressed and the economic and fiscal conditions exist to create the environment needed for rural businesses to prosper. The Government needs to commit to developing policies that support them in a way that will contribute meaningfully to economic growth – a review of all existing businesses policies to ensure their needs are met is the first step towards this.

Rural tourism in this country generates £33billion and is a key economic driver in the eastern region’s economy. However, with the UK VAT rate set at 20 percent for all tourism-related activities – such as accommodation, hospitality and attractions – it is one of the highest rates in the EU and puts rural tourism at a competitive disadvantage against other member states.

If the VAT rate was reduced by five percent for accommodation and attractions it could boost Gross Domestic Product by £4bn, create 80,000 jobs and deliver £2.6bn to the Treasury. With the tidal surge, and subsequent floods, that hit the east coast in December 2013 still fresh in the mind, the CLA wants the Environment Agency’s budget to be focused on flood defences – both capital schemes and river maintenance. The Government also needs to give those in rural communities a greater say in flood management. Given the right political climate and incentives, farmers and landowners can play a large part in mitigating flood risk. We also urge the next administration to stop gold plating rules around CAP payments and start providing some clarity so that we can compete with other EU member states, while delivering environmental benefits. It also needs to use an IT system that is fit for the purpose of implementing CAP in a simple and cost-effective way both for claimants of the Basic Payments Scheme and the Rural Payments Agency. The growing population and increasing demand for food and energy sources is putting more and more pressure on the environment. We want the next Government to look at developing a rural market which recognises conservation as a crop – and reward the providers accordingly.

CLA East will be making sure all candidates in Suffolk, Essex, Norfolk, and the rest of the region are aware of the manifesto, with our advisers ready to brief candidates from all parties on these often complex issues that are specific to the rural economy.

All those who place high value on a long-term, economically viable countryside can rely on the CLA to set out the appropriate agenda and help the next Government unlock the countryside’s undoubted, but yet unrealised, potential.

‘Unlock the Countryside’s Potential’ was unveiled by CLA President Henry Robinson at a special debate on the first day of the CLA Game Fair (Friday 18 July) at Blenheim Palace, Oxfordshire. You can download it from http://bit.ly/CLA2015manifesto

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