17 August 2001

Haskins to visit north and Devon

LORD Haskins, the Labour peer asked by Tony Blair to rejuvenate rural areas hit by foot-and-mouth disease, is to visit Devon and North Yorkshire.

The Northern Foods chairman pledged to help ease short-term cash-flow problems crippling farmers and rural businesses after he embarked on a six-week review beginning in Cumbria. He will spend two days a week on rural recovery work before reporting to the government at the end of September.

"The immediate issue of concern over the next few weeks is cashflow. I am going to find out how serious the problem is and what can be done about it," said Lord Haskins. This could involve helping people in worst hit areas access government and European Union funds currently denied to them because of red tape, he added.

Lord Haskins met representatives from farming, local government and the tourist industry while in Cumbria on Mon, Aug 13. He is due to return to the area on Mon, Aug 20 and Tue, Aug 21 and wants to meet farmers and other rural business people face-to-face.

Lord Haskins said farmers should look to the future or risk living on borrowed time. "I think that the idea of turning the clock back is not the way of dealing with the problems in Cumbria today," he said. "Small farms in Cumbria are already diverse and I suspect the trend will continue. But the enterprise has got to come from the people there," he said. &#42

Although his remit is limited to England, Lord Haskins remarks upset producers in Wales where there are many small family farms. Welsh Rural Affairs Minister Carwyn Jones said his comments were "unhelpful".

The Farmers Union of Wales said it hoped a visit to Wales would stop the Labour peer from engaging in what it described as "megaphone diplomacy". NFU Wales president Hugh Richards said putting Lord Haskins in charge of a rural recovery was like "putting a wolf in charge of the lambing shed".