This week, the CLA took a trip down to Brighton for the Labour Party Conference to hear what policies and ideas the party has been developing for rural communities. At the start of 2020, Shadow Environment Secretary Luke Pollard set out plans for the Rural Review, effectively issuing a challenge to rural people and stakeholders to tell the party what was needed for rural areas.
The review closed in the summer, and the first initial findings were revealed on Monday at a joint event hosted by the CLA, NFU and Labour Coast and Country. At the event, Luke Pollard talked about the need for a cross-departmental strategy for rural areas and called out the government for taking the rural vote for granted. However, he also reflected that Labour has not “been turning up” in these areas to offer an alternative.
To combat this, the party is proposing that every government department has an identified minister responsible for rural issues to ensure it will be considered in all areas of policy development, be that transport or housing. Speaking at the event, Luke said: “Making policies for urban areas and then seeing if it fits against rural areas is not a good enough answer.”
Making policies for urban areas and then seeing if it fits against rural areas is not a good enough answer.
The review is yet to be completed, with the full report due in early 2022; however, the initial commitments are promising if the Labour Party intends to place rural at the heart of policy-making. After the remarks by Luke Pollard, the rest of the session comprised a panel debate with the Shadow Secretary of State, CLA President Mark Bridgeman, NFU Deputy President Stuart Roberts and Maria Eagle MP.
The debate focused on the needs of rural areas, with many of the panel noting that these needs are not particularly different to those who live in cities, but that access to services was a big challenge. Mark Bridgeman reminded the audience that rural areas aren’t a museum for people to holiday in, but a place deserving of connectivity and proper investment in skills and job creation.
Away from the CLA event, there were plenty of other important conversations about the rural economy. Shadow Trade Secretary Emily Thornberry called for the protection of British environmental and animal welfare standards against poor trade deals, indicating that Labour would strengthen the role of the Trade and Agriculture Commission were the party to be in power.
There were also ambitious calls on reforms to business rates, with Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves calling for the end of business rates, describing them as stinting productivity across the high street. There was little indication of how this would be paid for, however, with vague hints towards making offshore companies pay more tax. This is an area the CLA will be keeping an eye on for further developments.
This was the first Labour Party Conference since the 2019 election, and it was clear that the party is back to having big ideas after a period of stagnation following the loss of the election and the change in leadership. The CLA will be working with the Labour team on how this can best boost rural productivity and growth.