Blair accused of ignoring rural plight

27 April 2000

Blair accused of ignoring rural plight

By Johann Tasker

TONY BLAIR has been accused of ignoring the plight of country people in the wake of the second annual report by the governments rural advisers.

The report, published by the Countryside Agency, paints a bleak picture of life in rural England at the start of the 21st century.

It reveals that total farm income last year fell to 2.25 billion – its lowest level since Britain joined the European Union in 1973.

Shadow agriculture minister Tim Yeo said that the Governments own rural policy advisors has exposed Labours “blatant lie” that there was no rural crisis.

The report says that average wages are lowest in Cornwall, the predominantly rural county visited by the Prime Minister three months ago.

On the day of that visit, Mr Blair launched a Cabinet Office report which played down any suggestion of town and country divide.

The Prime Minister said: “In broad terms the countryside is prosperous, contented and reasonably well-served.”

He added: “Yet whilst parts of farming and agriculture are clearly in crisis, it would be wrong to conclude that the same is true for the whole of rural Britain.”

But Mr Yeo said that the Countryside Agencys findings had shown that the Government was out of touch with rural Britain.

“Their report clearly contradicts Tony Blairs own report that concluded that, bar a few farmers problems, the countryside was basically fine.

A spokeswoman for the Countryside Alliance said the Countryside Agency report “pushed governments he rhetoric aside” and addressed some basic facts.

“Earlier this year, the Cabinet Office report said that the countryside was doing well. But this new report is more truthful and we welcome that.”

A spokeswoman for the National Farmers Union, described the Countryside Agency report was a telling snapshot of the breadth of the rural crisis.

“It highlights the really pivotal role of farming in maintaining a countryside that is both productive and valued by the general public.”

Nick Way, chief political adviser for the Country Landowners Association, said the report showed that urgent action was needed by the government.

“The Countryside Agency report throws down a challenge to the government,” he said. “Ministers must now pick it up.”

But the Council for the Protection of Rural England, which protects rural areas, said it was over-simplistic to suggest everything was bad in the countryside.

Alastair Rutherford, CPRE head of rural policy said: “To say that urban areas are worse off or better off than rural areas doesnt really make a lot of sense.

He added: Its the way you tackle problems that has to be different in rural areas.”

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