Diversification – dont go overboard, say Lib-Dems

28 September 2001




Diversification – dont go overboard, say Lib-Dems

By Isabel Davies

LIBERAL democrat farm spokesman Colin Breed has sounded a note of caution about policy makers repeatedly urging farmers to diversify to boost their incomes.

Addressing a fringe meeting at the Lib Dem Party conference in Bournemouth on Tues, Sept 25, Mr Breed indicated, as a former banker, he was worried by constant talk about diversification.

"We are in danger of encouraging people to move into areas of diversification where there is already saturation," he said.

"There is a limited number of farmhouse B&Bs or farmshops needed…If we encourage a lot more people in they wont be successful and we will undermine the success of those already in," he warned.

He told a well-attended meeting, jointly hosted by the Country Land and Business Association and Countryside Agency, that planning rules and a lack of finance available also needed to be sorted out.

"Businessmen can have all the advice and training they can get but what they need is money. Fundamentally, lack of capital is a huge problem," he said.

He criticised planning authorities and highway authorities for being inflexible and slammed rules which stop businesses such as farm shops putting up signs.

"We are trying to encourage small businesses and then we are finding every way available to prevent them from succeeding," he said. "It really is a misunderstanding of business. Business needs have to be more fully understood."

Ewen Cameron, chairman of the Countryside Agency, said the government had taken a number of important steps to help improve the planning situation.

But more could be done by local planners to build on and publicise these developments, he suggested. "The mechanisms to aid farm diversification are in place but better promotion could help turn them into new local businesses."

The CLA/CA meeting was one of a handful held by groups, including the NFU, National Consumer Council and Countryside Alliance, on the issue of farming and the countryside.

In the main conference hall, discussion was limited to a fairly informal consultative session on Wed, Sept 26, with the title Rural Futures. &#42

Party officials said the aim was to generate new ideas for a post foot-and-mouth recovery plan which could add to existing Party policy. Mr Breed gave no formal paper to conference.


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