East Anglia: Farmers call for Government action over rural economy

A SUFFOLK farmers’ leader has called on Government to match its words with action as he welcomed its ‘rural contract’ which was unveiled this week.

National Farmers’ Union (NFU) Suffolk county chairman Richard Scott said it was time for action to match the promises as new Environment Secretary Owen Paterson launched the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs’ (DEFRA) Rural Statement.

It named superfast broadband delivery, rural business grants and Rural Growth Networks among the initiatives which it said would create new rural jobs and business opportunities.

“This is certainly a step in the right direction but there are other issues that need to be tackled as well,” said Mr Scott.

“Planning issues still need to be addressed, so that more businesses can relocate to rural areas. And, of course, crucial to that as well is fast broadband access.

“Rural businesses must have good internet connections. There are still businesses close to me that have to have large data files put on disk or memory stick and sent in the post because their internet is so slow. It’s extremely hard to run a business on that basis these days.”

The county, supported by the Better Broadband for Suffolk campaign. should have access to superfast broadband by 2015, he said, but other factors such as the high cost of fuel and rural crime also needed to be looked at, he said.

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Country Land and Business Association (CLA) eastern regional director, Nicola Currie pointed out that the statement did not announce any new measures to tackle the lack of rural broadband access, which she said was a “major block” to rural economic growth.

She also pointed out that while it was important to reduce the amount of red tape faced by rural businesses, the Rural Statement made no mention of the recommendations made by the Farming Regulation Task Force on this issue.

“The worry is that recommendations will be picked and chosen to suit DEFRA, and unnecessary burdens for farmers and landowners will not be lifted,” she said.

“We would also like to see housing in rural areas recognised as helping to boost economic growth. This would bring DEFRA in line with the rest of government, particularly when it comes to finding a use for redundant farm buildings.”

However, she welcomed the focus on economic growth

“It is vital DEFRA understands the needs and interests of rural businesses as well as those who live and work in rural areas,” she said.