9 January 2002
We’ve met our rural pledge – Labour

By Isabel Davies

THE government claims it has fulfilled a pledge in its Rural White Paper to provide a voice for rural communities by setting up a rural affairs forum.

Rural affairs minister Alun Michael was due to host the first meeting of the group on Wednesday (9 January).

Mr Michael said: “The rural affairs forum will provide a voice for rural communities and a wide range of players at the heart of Government.

“It will ensure that we actively engage with the key organisations to put rural issues high on the Government agenda.”

Mr Michael said the organisation would build on the achievements of the rural task force, which was set up in response to the foot-and-mouth crisis.

The task force showed it was possible to work through problems together and achieve consensus, he added.

This was far more powerful than groups squabbling with each other, as has sometimes happened in the past.

The Countryside Alliance said it was essential the forum did not become a talking shop for ministers to merely politely listen to the rural concerns.

Richard Burge, CA chief executive said: “The forum must be enabled and empowered to positively influence public policy.

“The urgent task is to create economically viable and socially inclusive rural communities.”

Malcolm Bruce, rural affairs spokesman for the Liberal Democrats, reinforced the desire to action and not just words.

“To be credible, the Government must bridge the gap between support and resources,” he said.

“Ensuring that this rural affairs forum is not just hot air will go a long way to meeting the expectations of rural communities.”