DEFRA secretary Caroline Spelman has vowed the Conservatives will fix the problems in the countryside left behind by the previous administration.
In a fighting address to the to the party’s annual conference in Manchester on Sunday (2 October), Mrs Spelman said the Tories would bridge the divide between rural and urban areas.
She told delegates that rural areas had been neglected by the previous government and that it was up to the Tory’s to clear up the mess that Labour had made.
Describing the Conservatives as ‘a government on the side of farmers’, Mrs Spelman said her DEFRA team had taken steps to back farmers through improved food labelling regimes and by tackling unnecessary red tape.
She said the party had also helped producers by making improvements to the Rural Payments Agency and supported upland farmers through the Upland Support Package.
“This is a government that is on the side of our farmers, our countryside and on the side of old-fashioned ‘fairness’,” she told the first day of the conference.
Criticising the Labour party’s opposition to DEFRA’s plans to run a pilot badger cull to tackle bovine TB, Mrs Spelman added: “Like everything they oppose, they’ve no credible alternative.
“When it comes to the countryside, they don’t get it. The only time they encounter it is when they are chasing a bandwagon through it.”
While DEFRA had been forced to make budget cuts, Mrs Spelman said funding had been increased in stewardship schemes to protect the environment and to give it a bright future.
She also pledged to find ways to unlock the potential of the rural economy to bridge the ‘rural-urban’ divide which was as pronounced as the north-south divide.
“We need to fix it, which is why we are investing in rural broadband and refocusing grants to promote rural enterprise and business start-ups.
“We want to help existing businesses become more competitive and innovative through renewable energy and more sympathetic planning systems.
“For our countryside to flourish, it has to be a thriving and prosperous part of the economic recovery.”
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