Committed to Ending Rural Poverty
I feel very privileged to live in the countryside.
At this time of year it is particularly glorious with everything a rich shade of green and the flowers and developing fruits showing a promise of things to come. We may well complain about rain but it is that together with the warmth which produces such abundance. When the weather is good who wants to live anywhere else or even think of going on holiday abroad.
However behind this abundance all is not as rosy as some think. There are serious problems for people who live in the countryside. Local schools, hospitals and shops and pubs are under pressure and many face closure, houses are too expensive, there are hardly any buses to get around and farmers are getting a raw deal from the big supermarkets.
The Labour government is an urban party holding few rural seats and has a poor understanding of the countryside and the poverty hidden there. The last year alone has seen this Labour Government deliver blow after blow to rural post offices, sideline affordable rural housing in favour of more urban regeneration and preside over the Rural Farm Payments fiasco.
Rural areas account for a fifth of the population. Despite this, rural areas have received as little as 5% of Government grants (under the Warm Front scheme) to upgrade their insulation and heating.
There could be even worse to come. In recent months we have seen a new planning bill and the sub-national review of English regional governance. Both are economically driven fundamental reforms. They threaten to undermine the balance of economic, social and environmental goals in planning decisions. They will undermine public involvement by giving responsibility to the unelected and unaccountable Infrastructure Planning Commission. The ability for the man in the street to object to decisions on new power stations, roads, airports and other big developments will be severely restricted.
Don't think it would be any better under a Conservative government. Under the Tories, rural services declined thanks to the bus privatisation, and post office, police station and village shop closures. Under the Tories, rural post offices shut down at a rate of up to 200 a year and since Labour came to power, the relentless pace of closures has continued with 1,200 axed since the millennium.
Conservatives take our rural areas for granted. They favour a free market approach that allows supermarkets to exploit British farmers and growers. They would do nothing to stem the growth of second home ownership in rural communities which has turned so many of our villages into ghost towns.
As a Liberal Democrat who lives and works in the countryside, I am committed to promoting better things for those who live and work in the countryside. I want to see living communities with affordable homes and successful economies. My party also has a larger proportion of MPs representing rural areas than any other party. This gives me the added advantage in promising to reverse the damage done by Labour and Conservative governments. A raft of policies will ensure affordable housing in rural areas, warm homes for all and first class services including support for shops and post offices. Small businesses will benefit from improved Broadband connections. The discretionary local 50 per cent rate relief scheme needs to be extended to pubs as well as shops and lower fuel tax rates are needed by essential users in rural areas.
Finally we need to make the most of the abundance of our wonderful countryside. Farmers will be encouraged by being paid properly for their hard work and not through subsidies.