The prime minister unveiled plans for a grand industrial strategy to boost growth after Brexit – but rural groups were largely left out.
The only mentions of the sector in the consultation plans, were Defra’s long-awaited 25-Year Food and Farming Plan, which has still not been published, and an old plan, published in 2014, to encourage public procurement of food.
The proposals briefly set out 10 “pillars”, including investment in science, national infrastructure and public procurement, aimed at addressing the uneven growth across the country.
NFU president Meurig Raymond welcomed the Green Paper, but said: “However, what is also notable is the absence of the British food and farming sector from this strategy – an industry that is bigger than the automotive and aerospace industries combined.
“Food and drink is the largest manufacturing sector in the UK – worth £108bn and providing jobs for 3.9 million people.
“British farming is the bedrock of this – not just feeding the nation, but in its contribution to the country’s economy, in creating jobs, as well as the rural landscape that attracts millions of tourists every year.
“It’s time for government to take heed of what farming is already delivering for this country, and understands this sector is strategically important to the UK prospects both pre- and post-Brexit.”
Countryside infrastructure must be included
The CLA welcomed the proposals but said it was vital that the countryside was properly included.
“It is vital [May’s] industrial strategy includes the countryside and not just dispersed towns and cities,” said CLA president Ross Murray.
“The future of broadband and mobile technology must end the situation where rural areas are always at the back of the queue for innovation and access to the latest technology.
“Providing solutions to problems like managing flood risk and generating new greener energy are potentially big opportunities for rural businesses.
“Some key preconditions to unlocking investment from the thousands of businesses across the countryside are vital to achieving the aim of the strategy in rural areas.
“The first is to ensure the costly and complex planning regime is simplified and secondly is to guarantee universal connectivity. The strategy must be genuinely long term in its ambition and delivery.”
But the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, said the proposal was not intended to single out specific industries, but instead create the conditions for winners to emerge across all sectors.
A spokesperson said the consultation – which is open until 17 April – would welcome input from farmers and other rural businesses.
The paper is open for public consultation, with a deadline for submissions of 17 April 2017. For more information see the government’s green paper: Building our Industrial Strategy. (PDF)