This time of year provides a good opportunity to reflect on the previous 12 months, as well as look ahead to what’s coming up.
Here CLA South East Regional Director Tim Bamford reviews 2021 and considers what 2022 might bring...
It is perhaps easy to forget that so much has happened over the last 12 months, and the rural sector – not for the first time – has had to adapt and change to the challenges and opportunities posed.
While farmers have continued to feed the nation and care for the environment, there have been issues around labour shortages and supply chains. Those who have diversified into hospitality, weddings and events may have enjoyed high levels of bookings in the summer, but are still experiencing difficulties and uncertainties as we continue to live with the impacts of the pandemic.
Meanwhile, the pace of post-Brexit agricultural transition has quickened over the past 12 months, and the CLA – which represents thousands of farmers, landowners and rural businesses – has been working hard to ensure members are supported and involved as Defra rolls out its environmental land management (ELM) programme.
Shifting from a system based around direct payments to one that pays for public goods is a good ambition, but it must be done carefully. New schemes must successfully sit alongside existing ones as they remain the main sources of funding for now.
Other areas the CLA has been working on include connectivity, which varies so wildly depending on where you live or work, and managing public access, especially in light of the pandemic and growing numbers of visitors to rural areas. To that end we have been involved in the relaunch of the Countryside Code earlier this year and created resource packs alongside LEAF Education for schools to use in lessons.
Fresh policies are needed to simplify the tax and planning systems for businesses wishing to diversify, while investment in skills and training is required to support local job creation. And with climate change at the top of the agenda, particularly in the wake of COP26, the focus for our industry will be on how to grow the economy, mitigate climate change and reverse biodiversity decline at the same time.
As part of our Rural Powerhouse initiative, the CLA estimates that if rural productivity per worker was raised to the national average, an additional £43 billion could be added to national income every year. The creation of the new Ministry for Levelling Up under the leadership of former Defra Secretary Michael Gove, therefore, represents a big opportunity for change in 2022.
Despite lockdown restrictions, 2021 still proved to be a busy year for the CLA team in the South East, with more than 30 physical and virtual events, AGMs and conferences arranged and attended. We hope to organise many more in-person in 2022.
The regional office, which represents members in Kent, Hampshire, Surrey, Sussex, Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire and the Isle of Wight, is committed to championing rural communities and businesses and believes that next year has the potential to be an exciting one for the sector, especially if we all work together.
Wishing everyone a happy Christmas.
CLA South East Regional Director