We are set for an intriguing final week of general election campaigning as political parties of all persuasions do all they can to encourage us to vote for them on Thursday. Predicting the result is as clear as mud – something that our members have seen more than their share of in recent weeks due to the extremely wet weather.
Whichever political party is successful on election day it is going to be a very busy couple of years. The new government will begin grappling with a wide range of issues that will have a significant impact on rural businesses. A renewed Agriculture Bill for example will soon return to Parliament, as will an Environment Bill. The CLA will be there to advise government about the practical implications. Warm words need to be translated into practical policies that can be delivered by our members.
Landowners can help provide the solutions to many of our national challenges – not least in tackling the threat of climate change. Through an effective public goods model, we can help deliver the government’s ambitions in the 25 Year Environment Plan. We can arrest the decline of biodiversity, improve the environment, while also embracing technology to improve farm productivity. With the right planning framework, we can also help solve the rural housing crisis, and help stimulate rural growth and job creation.
One of the few things we do know for certain is that change is coming. Our businesses need to change too. Last month we launched our new campaign called the Rural Powerhouse. The campaign is designed to unleash the potential of the rural economy and aims to close the rural productivity gap while transforming the lives of millions of people who live and work in the countryside.
Rural businesses cover everything from farming and food production to tourism, housing and energy production. Owing to their location and unique circumstances, they often have to be agile and explore opportunities across different sectors. This entrepreneurialism, though, can be hampered by a lack of investment, government support and excessive red tape. We are determined to create a lasting impact with this campaign and are seeking:
- A fully connected countryside
- A planning system designed for rural communities
- Profitable and sustainable farming
- Investment in skills and innovation
- A simpler tax regime
The Rural Powerhouse will address some of the key issues in 2020 but they will not be the only focus for the CLA. We will be continuing to ensure rural crime remains a high priority for the police and we will also be paying close attention to the management of water.
In recent weeks, the CLA has written to the chief executive of the Environment Agency, highlighting the impact of major flooding events on our members. We have called for a review of agreements for controlled flooding of agricultural land, given the increasing frequency of these events, along with further work into natural flood risk management.
The CLA has also spoken to the Rural Payments Agency (RPA) to discuss the Farming Recovery Fund and the impact of wet weather on Basic Payment Scheme and Agri-environment scheme commitments.
Another issue linked to water management is abstraction licences. The CLA, and many other farming groups, have heavily criticised proposals to reduce or remove abstraction licences without providing compensation.
We have argued that permanent abstraction licences are property rights and business assets – even when they are not in use. Climate change and a growing population will mean it is likely farmers will be using them in the future. Removing licences without compensation will have huge consequences for farmers across the country.
2020 is going to be an intriguing year and the CLA stands ready to speak up on the issues that matter for rural businesses in the region.