4 December 1998

Rural policy hard

FUNDING will be the key to the success of the rural development measures proposed under Agenda 2000. And without clarification of what the EU Commission means in large parts of its draft regulation then it is difficult for MAFF or the DETR to make any firm decisions on its implementation.

Speaking at an Agriculture Select Committee meeting, minister Elliot Morley said that whilst the proposals are a step in the right direction, resources are needed if they are to work. Shifting funds away from production linked support would be one solution, he said.

It is speculative to say whether some areas will lose out as a result of reforms, he said.

A lot will depend on what criteria are agreed to define target areas. He indicated that government is pressing hard to ensure that unemployment is not the only measure used.

And when pushed for details of what MAFF would like to introduce, Mr Morley came forward with his own wish list. As part of an approach towards a rural strategy he would like to see substantial increases in agri-environmental programmes, options to support diversification and collective marketing and more opportunities for adding value. Offering a wider range of optional support measures will achieve more benefits than production linked payments, he said.