20 March 2001
Meacher to aid rural business

By FWi staff

ENVIRONMENT minister Michael Meacher has offered help to farmers who have diversified into other enterprises and to producers turning to charity for aid.

Mr Meacher, who is leading a rural task force, unveiled a raft of measures to help communities hit by foot-and-mouth controls on Tuesday (20 March).

Farmers who heeded Government calls to diversify into ventures ranging from livery yards and tearooms face hardship as visitors stay away.

Mr Meacher said the Government will consider rate relief from 75% to 95% on small rural businesses hit by foot-and-mouth.

Affected businesses can also apply to the Valuation Office Agency for a temporary reduction in their rateable value.

And he also pledged that the Government would match public donations — which currently top 5 million — made to rural charities.

Mr Meacher talked of extending 50% rate relief to some village pubs and garages with a rateable value of less than 9000.

Local authorities can use powers allowing deferred rate payments, and a three-month extension to business rate appeals has been announced.

Addressing the tax system, Mr Meacher said the Inland Revenue and Customs and Excise have also been instructed to be “very sympathetic”.

He also revealed that he is negotiating with banks the possibility of extended lines of credit and repayment holidays for rural customers.

In a bid to minimise the impact of the crisis on businesses, Mr Meacher urged the public to return to unaffected rural areas.

“The basic message is that the public should stay away from livestock and their pastures,” said the minister.

“But there are still plenty of things to do and places to visit in the country without risking spreading the disease,” he insisted.

Hundreds of National Trust and English Heritage properties, and many British Waterway canals will be reopening shortly, he said.

National Park Authorities will consider reopening footpaths outside infected areas and an advertising campaign outlining dos and donts is being launched.

The National Farmers Union welcomed the package, saying it will provide some initial reassurance to businesses struggling to survive.

NFU President Ben Gill said: “This is only the first step of further action needed to improve the situation for rural businesses.”

But Mr Gill said any decision to reopen footpaths and other countryside attractions should be subject to a rigorous risk assessment.

Ben Knight of land agents Humberts said a 9000 cap on extended rate relief would exclude more established businesses.

  • EU agriculture commissioner Franz Fischler has promised to look carefully at three requests from UK farm minister Nick Brown for help in dealing with the crisis.

    Mr Brown wants clearance to pay part of the 156m in agrimoney compensation due ahead of schedule, and state aid consent for culling animals on welfare grounds.

    He also wants clarification that livestock headage payments can be made, even though mandatory checks have not been possible due to farm quarantine rules

Foot-and-mouth – confirmed outbreaks
Foot-and-mouth – FWi coverage