Mak­ing a state­ment about the coun­try­side

Country Life Every Week - - Letters To The Editor -

THE Au­tumn State­ment is es­sen­tially broad brush. It was al­ways so. The big num­bers and big ideas give a di­rec­tion of travel and it’s for the com­ing Bud­get to re­fine them into pro­grammes for ac­tion. That’s why, for the coun­try­side to be men­tioned at all is a real bonus. We’re usu­ally caught up with the ur­ban econ­omy, our spe­cial con­cerns lost in paint­ing the big pic­ture. This time, it was dif­fer­ent. Dou­bling the rate re­lief for the vil­lage shops and pubs that make such a dif­fer­ence to ru­ral life is re­ally good news, as are the spe­cific con­cerns about ru­ral con­nec­tiv­ity and the help for lo­cal trans­port. Given all the hype around in­fra­struc­ture and the in­dus­trial strat­egy, this at­ten­tion to ru­ral mat­ters was un­ex­pected and very wel­come.

Clearly, it’s not go­ing to be easy to nav­i­gate the Brexit rocks and the Chan­cel­lor isn’t one for whistling in the wind. Although he’s sig­nalled no fur­ther ben­e­fit cuts, he hasn’t been able to prom­ise more for care in the com­mu­nity or for the NHS —that bus with the £350 mil­lion prom­ise has clearly been taken off the road. How­ever, bor­row­ing is go­ing up—not to fi­nance cur­rent ex­pen­di­ture, but for real in­vest­ment in our fu­ture. That’s a sen­si­ble de­ci­sion when the in­ter­est rates paid by Gov­ern­ment are prac­ti­cally nil. Mind you, we’ll need to get in quickly be­cause fail­ure to get a sen­si­ble deal with the EU will down­grade our sta­tus with the rating agen­cies and push up that cost con­sid­er­ably.

In any case, we coun­try peo­ple will have to work hard to get our fair share of this in­fra­struc­ture money. In Eng­land, there’s a large slice go­ing to the de­volved author­i­ties and those are pre­dom­i­nantly ur­ban in char­ac­ter. Ru­ral ad­vo­cates will need to be se­ri­ously pushy if they’re not to be over­looked. The same prin­ci­ple ob­tains for dig­i­tal in­vest­ment, where ru­ral MP Matthew Han­cock is a key Min­is­ter. We’ll have to re­mind him con­stantly of the im­por­tance of con­nec­tiv­ity for the thou­sands of es­tab­lished and emerg­ing ru­ral busi­nesses. The coun­try­side has al­ways been a work­place and could now add even more to our na­tional in­come, if only it can be bet­ter con­nected.

Growth in our ru­ral ar­eas takes some of the pres­sure off our towns and ci­ties, where the Gov­ern­ment has promised sig­nif­i­cant help to tackle the hous­ing cri­sis. It’s en­cour­ag­ing that it’s now putting money where only its mouth has been for far too long.

How­ever, these homes need to be in town and not slurped over the coun­try­side as many of the house builders want. Sus­tain­able hous­ing means reusing al­ready used land, in well-con­nected ur­ban cen­tres, close to ameni­ties, shops and jobs. The land is there—it just needs to be re­leased and used. House builders pre­fer a nice green­field site, as they’re eas­ier and cheaper, how­ever, we mustn’t al­low them to hi­jack this di­rect in­vest­ment in hous­ing—we must in­sist on de­cent, energy-ef­fi­cient, truly ur­ban homes. Of course, some af­ford­able ru­ral hous­ing is also nec­es­sary be­cause our vil­lages will oth­er­wise be un­able to ac­com­mo­date the work­ing peo­ple our bur­geon­ing small busi­nesses need.

Those busi­nesses also need en­cour­age­ment, not just in­vest­ment and a benev­o­lent tax regime. It’s re­spect for the self-em­ployed that has been the bedrock of our re­cent growth. The Chan­cel­lor made a mis­take in link­ing the whole sec­tor with tax avoid­ance. He must make it clear that most small busi­nesses, ur­ban and ru­ral, are thor­oughly de­cent con­trib­u­tors who should be hon­oured and not vil­i­fied.

‘Most small busi­nesses, ur­ban and ru­ral, should be hon­oured and not vil­i­fied

Fol­low @agromenes on Twit­ter

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