The rural agenda: Conservative Party

The Conservative Party presents its ideas for the rural economy as part of a series of articles the CLA is running ahead of the general election on 4 July
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The CLA has offered all major political parties the opportunity to present their ideas for rural communities ahead of the general election. We offer this in a non-partisan manner. This article is part of a series of pieces that we are publishing in the run up to 4 July.

Steve Barclay, Former Secretary of State for Defra:

Rural areas contribute more than £250bn to the economy in this country. Amid agricultural show season, I am reminded more than ever that the rural economy is vast and that our rural areas have so much potential.

That is why I am so proud to be standing on a manifesto that backs rural communities and businesses, farmers, and landowners. Labour’s manifesto has demonstrated that Keir Starmer just doesn’t get rural areas. Instead of supporting them, he intends to tax them – and tax them big.

To pay for their £38bn black hole, Labour will have to raise taxes. It will cost over £2,000 per working family. Labour hasn’t been open about what taxes they would hike. They have refused to rule out scrapping agricultural property relief, worth a total of £1bn to farmers each year.

Many farms also benefit from the business relief for inheritance tax, so scrapping these combined reliefs for farmers would mean the average UK farm could be faced with an inheritance tax bill of £600,000. That would be a ruinous sum for any farming family – and yet Labour has refused to rule it out.

Farmers have had to deal with exceptionally tough conditions in recent months with record levels of rain and prices still high after the war in Ukraine and Covid-led inflation. Crucially, we have built the flexibility into our budget to support farmers with those challenges.

The Conservative manifesto has also pledged not just to maintain the current agricultural budget but increase it by £1bn over the next Parliament. Meanwhile, the Labour Party hasn’t committed to a single penny for agriculture.

Their manifesto is worryingly light on food and farming - with just 87 words on it. While the Conservatives will introduce a legally binding food security target, Labour doesn’t have a plan at all. Instead, they have pledged to triple the amount of solar power with no promise to protect good farmland, putting acres of valuable agriculture at risk. We have committed to protecting that high-value land for food.

In Wales, the only part of the country where Labour is in power, protests have been rife since the Welsh Labour government tried to impose top-down targets on the proportion of land farmers have to take out of food production – which will force thousands out of work. Rates of Bovine TB have soared, with farmers limited in the measures they’re permitted to use to stem the spread.

We have made substantial progress cutting red tape for farmers, including for conversions of agricultural buildings to farm shops – nicknamed ‘the Clarkson clause’. But we must go further. It still takes too long to build the infrastructure that is crucial for our food security. Storage facilities, on-farm reservoirs and glasshouses are all an important part of resilient, profitable food production.

More broadly, we have boosted rural communities over the last few years. Over 80% of properties across the country can now access high-speed broadband, up from just 7% in 2019, with a record £714m committed to boosting rural broadband coverage in 2024. We have pledged to invest in new technology to achieve our ambitious broadband targets for hard-to-reach areas.

On transport, the £2 fare cap has cut rural bus fares by over 11% and our commitment in our Backing Drivers Bill not to introduce pay-per-mile road pricing schemes will ensure people who rely on their cars in rural areas are protected.

We will do more to boost the availability of affordable housing for local people in rural areas. We will ensure rural exception sites support local people in home ownership and create a dedicated taskforce in Homes England to deliver on the mission set out in their Rural Housing Statement to invest in regeneration and building high-quality homes. We will also ensure councils have the powers they need to manage the uncontrolled growth of holiday lets, which can cause nuisance to residents and a broader ‘hollowing out’ of communities.

We Conservatives will always seek to preserve and enhance the rural way of life. Public arms-length bodies must be responsive to those they serve. Rural communities are clear that improvements must be made to the ways in which these bodies consult and make decisions, especially from Natural England and the Environment Agency. We will improve their accountability and give them clearer objectives to focus on.

A vote for the Conservatives is a vote to protect and enhance rural communities. A vote for anyone else will hand Keir Starmer a blank cheque. He doesn’t care about our rural way of life, and he would govern as a Londoner for other Londoners.

Analysing the manifesto mayhem

Check out the CLA's rural analysis on the manifesto pledges made by major political parties and find out what they could mean for members