MPs tell DEFRA to focus more on its rural affairs role

The rural economy is having its economic potential stifled by a lack of support from DEFRA, according to a report by an influential parliamentary committee.

The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select committee said that rural economies already “punch above their weight” as 20% of Britain’s population live in rural areas but they provide 30% of the UK’s economic activity.

The report, published on Wednesday (29 Oct), highlighted a strong perception that rural affairs are being marginalised in DEFRA.

Many rural business owners told the committee they suffered from a lack of phone connections and transport costs.

Others said a lack of business buildings, affordable housing and workforce was driving their business into towns. 

The committee agreed with witnesses to the inquiry who said that DEFRA’s departmental strategic objective of “Strong Rural communities” was confusing and not easily understood.

It said that now that climate change responsibilities had been removed from DEFRA it expected to see evidence of the department focusing more closely on its rural affairs responsibilities.

Committee chairman, MP Michael Jack, said: “DEFRA must raise its game if it is to unlock the billions of pounds of untapped economic potential in the countryside.

“Entrepreneurialism is ‘alive’ in the rural economy. But if it is to be ‘well’ government must now find a lasting solution to the challenges of affordable housing, transport costs and the maintenance of a skilled labour force.

“DEFRA should look again at its rural departmental objectives as few have any belief that the current ones really will build a successful and sustainable rural economy.”

A recent report by rural advocate Dr Stuart Burgess estimated that the untapped potential from rural businesses was between £236bn and £347bn per year.”

The EFRA committee invited people to give evidence to its inquiry through a variety of means, including a phone-in on BBC Radio 4’s ‘You and Yours’.

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