CLA opinion: The heat is on....

CLA East Director Cath Crowther considers some of the challenges rural businesses faced in 2022
Cath Crowther - new enews.jpg
Cath Crowther

With the summer heatwave topping 40 degrees and field fires breaking out with alarming regularity – the heat was certainly on farming and rural businesses in 2022. But it was not the only place where the temperature was rising this year.

At our Rural Business Conference in London recently CLA President Mark Tufnell laid bare how rural communities are running out of patience with the government and uncertainty over future of Environmental Land Management (ELM) schemes is eroding confidence within the industry.

With Defra Secretary Dr Thérèse Coffey in attendance, Mark said that the delays to the rollout of the ELM scheme are unacceptable and compared the lack of clarity on payment rates to “buying something from the shop without knowing the price”. Early 2023 must provide some answers and we will continue to hold the government's feet to fire.

2022 has not all been doom and gloom however. The return of the wonderful Suffolk, Royal Norfolk and Lincolnshire Shows after a two-year hiatus was a celebration of agriculture and our rural industries. Most importantly of all, it provided us all with an opportunity to reconnect with friends and colleagues and after such a challenging time.

At the CLA, we used these events to meet with many MPs from our region to bang the drum on the matters of most importance to our members. At every opportunity we pressed home the importance of a profitable and sustainable farming industry. We raised issues with the planning system which is holding rural business back, called for a simpler tax regime and urged investment in skills and innovation.

Our work on tackling rural crime continued this year, with some notable developments. Tougher sentencing and improved powers to the courts to tackle hare coursing were added to the Police Crime Sentencing and Courts Act 2022.

This means there are now greater tools that authorities can use for tackling the issue, that will hopefully help to protect farmers and rural communities who are victims of this crime. The new powers do, of course, require offenders to be caught, which is why the CLA is frequently in contact with police forces to ensure the rural voice is heard on all aspects of crime.

The CLA has also been lobbying the government this year for a package of measures to boost England’s rural economy. We highlighted that there were no channels for rural diversification projects in funding allocations. The government recognised the need for a distinct rural capital grant that will help rural businesses diversify.

It has led to the creation of a £110m Rural England Prosperity Fund from April 2023 to March 2025. It will be delivered by local authorities for capital projects, including converting building for business use, supporting diversification projects and delivering digital infrastructure. The CLA is in contact with respective local authorities to ensure our members’ interests are taken into account when these funds are allocated.

With the recent snowfall providing an arctic blast for our region to end the year – the heat really does need to be on. And it comes at an extortionate price. From rising energy prices, higher input and raw costs, through to an acutely labour shortage, amongst other things, rural businesses are being squeezed. We set up a cost-of-living hub on the CLA website this year, which provides our members with in-depth analysis of current developments, examining price trends to provide up-to-date information that will help them in making the right decisions.

There will be undoubtedly more challenges to overcome in 2023 with increasing concerns of an potential recession. The CLA's role in championing the rural economy and supporting rural businesses has never been so important.