29 May 1998

Joint rural charter highlights plight of plunging incomes

By Catherine Hughes

FARMING organisations and leaders of allied industries have joined forces to highlight the effect the current farm income crisis is having on the economy of rural Britain.

A rural charter calling on the government and other key economic decision makers, such as the Bank of England, to ensure there is a vibrant rural economy for future generations, was signed on Wednesday by more than 25 organisations from across Britain.

The rural collaboration is now seeking an urgent meeting with government ministers, especially chancellor Gordon Brown.

The initiative, brainchild of the NFU, involves the countrys other farming unions as well as allied organisations such as the Agricultural Engineers Association, Fertiliser Manufacturers Association, Road Haulage Association and Livestock Auctioneers Association.

At the launch of the charter, NFU leader Ben Gill revealed that last years fall of almost 50% in farm incomes, and the consequent drop of 37% in agricultural investment expected this year, had left business confidence at its lowest level in living memory .

"We are calling on the government and other key economic decision makers to act on the rural charter to ensure a vibrant rural economy for future generations," he said. "When the farming industry is hurting so is the rest of the rural economy."

Echoing that view, Jake Vowels, director general of Agricultural Engineers Association, said the service industry was the first to suffer in such times. Dealers were closing on a weekly basis, which left farmers with less choice, no skilled people in the locality, and people deserting the countryside.

The charter called on government to acknowledge the severity of the crisis affecting rural Britain and act to remedy it. Additional demands included that:

&#8226 Every conceivable step is taken to lower the value of the £.

&#8226 Economic decisions are taken to lower interest rates.

&#8226 Unnecessary regulatory burden is avoided and that government ensures similar controls are imposed across the whole of Europe.

&#8226 Imported products are subjected to the same regulations and standards required of British producers.

Jim Reed, director general of supply trade body UKASTA, said the volume of imports being sucked into the UK was a huge problem, particularly the amount of poultry meat coming in to the catering trade .

George Lyon, Scottish NFU president, said 150,000 jobs were at stake in Scotland and never before had he seen farmers go bankrupt and repossessions of machinery take place as now.