Preparing for change

The latest column from Country Land and Business Association Regional Director Cath Crowther
Cath Crowther 1.jpg
Cath Crowther

There are big changes in agricultural policy ahead and now is the time to start taking action, and plan for the future.

I wanted to draw your attention to a series of free CLA events that will provide clear advice and information on the agricultural transition and help you respond to changes in agricultural, environmental and climate policy, regulation and markets.

These sessions will move beyond just giving the latest information from Defra and will present different scenarios and case studies to see how different farms might generate income in the future. They will outline options for new income streams, so you can start thinking about what the changes mean for your business and what opportunities there may be in the future.

We will be joined by representatives from Defra, the Rural Payments Agency (RPA), Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB) and Forestry Commission, along with CLA advisers and policy team.

The dates are as follows:

Wednesday 16 March | 10am - 12pm

Moulton College, Northampton, Northamptonshire


Wednesday 16 March | 5pm - 7pm

Riseholme College, Lincoln, Lincolnshire


Thursday 17 March | 10am - 12pm

Writtle College, Chelmsford, Essex


Thursday 17 March | 3pm - 5pm

Brome Grange Hotel, Brome, Suffolk


I highly recommend you take the time to attend one of these events and look forward to seeing you there.

In other news, we saw the government release its Levelling Up white paper recently which promises a complete ‘system change’ of how government works. It was billed as a programme for economic growth in left behind areas.

This was meant to be a seminal moment, where growth and prosperity would finally come to all those left behind places. In the end, it was little more than a compendium of rehashed money, more devolution and vague aspirations. The needs of rural communities largely ignored.

Those in rural areas desperately needed an ambitious and robust plan to create jobs, share prosperity and strengthen communities, but Government has failed to deliver it. Many rural voters put their faith in this government, but this white paper suggests that government doesn’t understand them, their needs or their aspirations.

The rural economy is 18% less productive than the national average. Reducing this gap could add up to £43bn to the national economy. Meanwhile, the government's own report shows that for those living and working in the countryside, earnings are lower and housing is more expensive than in urban communities.

People just want a good job and an affordable home, but both can be difficult to come by in rural areas. They were relying on the Government’s levelling up agenda to recognise the potential of the rural economy, to give them a shot at building a good life for themselves in their own community. But as far as we can tell those developing the ‘levelling up’ concept never even tried.

Too often the government treats the countryside as a museum, erring on the side of no development and low investment. But we desperately need policies designed to unlock the potential of the countryside.

Policies favoured by the Country Land and Business Association include:

  • Creating a planning regime that allows disused buildings to be converted into modern workspaces
  • Allowing sensible, small scale housing developments to breathe new life into rural communities
  • Simplifying the tax system to encourage business diversification
  • Making the current 12.5% VAT rate for tourism businesses permanent to bring the UK in line with European holiday destinations
  • Speeding up the delivery of gigabit broadband and 4G for all rural communities

The lack of rural focus from government is largely down to the fact that Defra alone does not have the policy levers necessary to make a meaningful difference. The Levelling Up agenda needs to include a cross-departmental effort to deliver policies that will create economic growth in rural areas.

It isn’t too late. We call on government to listen carefully to the ambitions of rural businesses and the communities they support. We are ready and raring to go, and want to work with ministers to create prosperity across the countryside.