Yesterday, together with Jim Paice MP, the Shadow Minister for Agriculture and Rural Affairs, I was at the Royal Show in Warwickshire, where we launched Rural Action, the Conservative agenda to revitalise our rural communities.
Rural England has suffered a decade of disrespect by Labour. Quiet communities have become angered by a Government which won’t even listen, still less give them a say.
Local services have been withdrawn, rural communities have been denied a voice, and power has been taken away from local people. 1,400 rural post offices have disappeared since the year 2000. There are now 200 fewer rural schools than when Labour came to power.
We desperately need a new government which understands rural areas and cares about them. So we are setting out solid proposals to empower rural communities, protect rural services, respect rural people and revive the rural economy. And we are also launching a grassroots campaign, Conservative Rural Action, to promote our ideas throughout the countryside.
We will reverse Labour’s centralisation, ending the years of insensitive dictat from Whitehall, and set about restoring the voice of rural areas in decision making. We will scrap limits on surplus places so that good small schools can prosper and new ones can open where parents want them. And we will give rural communities the power to expand and build the homes they need, subject to the agreement of local people.
We will ensure fair funding for rural areas by removing the political element from the allocation of grant for individual local authorities, and take into account the social value of rural services like post offices. But tough decisions will have to be made about overall spending over the next few years. So we need to ensure that services are made more efficient and bureaucracy is reduced. I am taking a long, hard look at the quangos which fall under Defra. There are too many officials with clipboards marching around the countryside.
Marginalising rural communities isn’t just unfair. It’s also a massive waste of potential. The countryside cannot be a dormitory or a museum. It is a place where millions of people work and which could be home to vibrant businesses and sustainable jobs growth of the future. So we will reduce the barriers to rural business growth through reforms to the tax and planning system, and by supporting community broadband schemes to bridge the ‘digital divide’.
Rural communities are crying out to be heard. They should no longer be ignored. To find out more about our campaign, visit www.conservativeruralaction.com.