27 July 2001

Revitalise rural areas – Charles

By Donald MacPhail

PRINCE Charles has called on big business to join him in a major effort to revitalise rural Britain in the wake of the foot-and-mouth crisis. The Prince launched his Business in the Community Rural Action programme before 200 business leaders at St Jamess Palace in London on Tuesday (July 24).

The Prince said it was the duty of business to offer a "ray of hope", and will accompany leaders on bus trips to see the plight of many country dwellers. Businesses should be encouraged to source food locally, and help should be provided with local services, such as a "pub is the hub" initiative.

Under this the village pub could also take on additional functions such as village shop, post office and bank. Efforts should be made to revive market towns and local entrepreneurs should be encouraged, said the Prince.

A way must be found to ensure that people born and bred in the countryside and who want to stay there can find an economic future, he added. Country people and the land they inhabit are among " the countrys most treasured national assets".

Sir Peter Davis, Chairman of Business in the Community, and group chief executive of Sainsburys, said: "It is important to recognise that business decisions do have an impact on our rural communities, and that businesses can make a significant contribution to the rural economy."

The Countryside Agency has pledged £150,000 over three years to aid the project. Agency chairman Ewen Cameron said: "The strong leadership of the Prince is an encouragement to us all to make a real difference. I very much welcome his support."

The NFU said: "Farmers and rural businesses are already working hard to diversify and respond to commercial pressures. The backing that is expected from the wider business community through this initiative can only help."

But rural economist and Cranfield University senior lecturer Sean Rickard said he would be concerned if people felt pressurised into buying locally produced food. "Prince Charles has done a lot of good work in rural areas but he is misguided in the extreme if he thinks this initiative is going to be the saviour of farming."

Nevertheless, Tesco unveiled plans to encourage "rural markets" in store car parks selling products ranging from fruit to arts and crafts. &#42

vegetables to arts and crafts.

Tesco retail director David Potts said: "Tesco has always recognised the importance of being a good neighbour and the value of good community relations. We believe it is now time to work even more proactively with the rural communities we serve."