19 April 2002

Budget ignores £500m

farming reform question

By Johann Tasker

FARMERS face a further wait before finding out whether the government is willing to fund the £500m reform of Britains agricultural industry. Policies to spur the recovery of farming after the foot-and-mouth crisis were notable by their absence from the Chancellors Budget on Wednesday (Apr 17).

A convoy of tractors circled Westminster as Gordon Brown delivered his Budget speech to MPs in the House of Commons. The protest was organised by the Countryside Alliance in an attempt to highlight the importance of the rural economy. A billboard on one vehicle pleaded: "Help rural businesses – dont harm them".

But Mr Brown appeared hard of hearing. There was nothing to suggest that he is willing to part with the £500m recommended by Sir Donald Currys commission to reform the industry. Farmers may now have to wait until the next spending review in July before knowing whether the money will be forthcoming.

Shadow DEFRA Secretary Peter Ainsworth told FARMERS WEEKLY: "This budget contained absolutely nothing for the rural economy – it looks like DEFRA has lost the battle with the Treasury. There is nothing in here for the Curry proposals and you have to ask where the next big idea is coming from."

NFU president Ben Gill described the budget as a failed opportunity for farmers and the rural community. Mr Brown had conspicuously failed to mention the continued suffering of the countryside despite the foot-and-mouth crisis, he said. The opportunity to help farmers rebuild their businesses had not been taken.

The Country Land and Business Association said the budget had left the rural economy lying on a trolley in the corridors of the Treasury. Tax barriers to rural diversification have not been removed or reduced and little had been done in relation to environmental issues or renewable fuels.

CLA president Sir Edward Greenwell said rural communities want help to help themselves but no significant effort had been made on their behalf. He added: "The need for this commitment has already been made clear by the Curry report. The Chancellor has today effectively excluded the rural economy."

&#8226 For special budget reports and analysis, see Business, page 26, and visit our website at www.fwi.co.uk/budget &#42