Sunday 29 November 2020

Country Standard - Editorial: Summer 2020 Edition

After ten years of Conservative Party rule, little has changed for the better for rural communities, in fact we challenge our readers to name any area where they have seen improvements.

Today, many small and upland farmers face bankruptcy, our town & village high street shops and pubs are closing, our rural schools remain underfunded, we are suffering shortages or rural teachers, doctors and nurses and our young forced to move to the Cities to find work.

With the Johnson Government, rural communities face many more direct challenges - the spin may be a little better, but the realities for rural communities will be devastating - not only from the impact of Brexit but also new waves of cuts (Austerity 2.0), tearing up planning regulations to benefit property speculators, and consistent inaction on Climate change

Meanwhile, farm subsidies are being dismantled and new trade deals signed without a coherent clear strategy to underpin UK farming and food planning.

This dangerous strategy leaves food production to the vagaries of the market can only spell long term disaster for farmer and consumer alike.

On the issue of trade deals, National Union of Farmers (NFU) president Minette Batters has on the issue of trade deals once again shown great leadership, backing up the demand for Government action to prevent trade deals allowing food to be imported that have been produced at standards below Britain's legal minimums with a petition signed by over one million.

But while we agree on this issue, we do take issue with the NFU over it's continued support for "Free market trade" . This concept has been fully exposed as a myth advocated by primarily, US Libertarian which would leave us at the mercy of market speculators especially during climate and economic shocks - not to mention pandemics.

It cannot be right that nearly 50% of the food we consume in the UK is now imported - It was less than 20% in the 1980's. We also need to address the serious structural problems in the British food system. British farming and food production urgently needs to address the issue of food quality and animal welfare assurances schemes, consumers need to have full confidence and trust in the schemes.

We should be examining the German schemes, where assurance schemes have to be subject not only to independent audit, but also independent oversight. We also need to develop as in France a network of municipal farmers markets to encourage local food networks and reduce spade to fork distances.

Land is a precious resource and should be valued for all in society for food production, shelter and the environment. With the closure of 30,000 farms and undoubtedly many more as a result of Brexit it is time to revisit Land ownership.

It cannot be right that over half of agricultural Land in this country is owned by 1% of the population. We need to examine how we can sustain small, middle, tenant, farmers to prosper and encourage new entrants, but we also need to examine how decommissioned farms can be used to create new green corridors, forests and rewilding projects, possibly via extensive use of Land Trusts.

Finally, May 2021 is the date set for the next County Council elections and offers us a great opportunity to put forward a progressive rural agenda, never before has it been so important to secure victory at County Hall. Never before has it been so important to secure victory at County Halls, never before the need to maximise unity amongst the forces of progress - no matter how difficult that can be - in order that we can harvest every progressive vote in town and village.

We need ALL rural progressives to be visible in their communities, to offer hope, leadership and solidarity

"Sharpen the sickle! The fields are white; 'Tis the time of the harvest at last"