Country Tour – Day 3 – The North

A cool grey morning in the Midlands soon gives way to the sunny uplands of the Peak District as we head north to meet Caitlin Bisknell, PPC for High Peak, and her team. The rolling hills stretch out in every direction, occasionally interrupted by an aggregates quarry, a bright beacon on human industrial endeavour in the landscape. We meet with Caitlin in the small village of Peak Dale and are soon door knocking, (& noticing many community facilities paid for by the aggregates levy (between 2005/07)).

With Caitlin and team, Peak Dale village

As a village some eight miles from the nearest town (of Buxton) the bus is a lifeline for the many older residents so transport is an issue on the door step; as are jobs, immigration and the NHS. Four streets later and much of the village is covered, some good Labour support, with the occasional ‘I haven’t decided yet’ and just a couple of once Labour veering to UKIP.  Details of our five pledges on immigration help moderate people’s concerns – we clearly need to continue to have this conversation in detail with those who might waiver towards ukip.

With time pressing we head off to Rossendale & Darwen to meet Will Straw, our PPC there. First stop is Ritherdon & Co. Ltd, a specialist company making stainless steel enclosures, such as those metal boxes you see along the highway holding the cabling for traffic lights and the like. A growing business they suffer from poor broadband connectivity, which can affect everything from downloading software updates to accessing design software.

At Ritherdon Co.Ltd with MD Ben Ritherdon

A great business that will benefit from our continued commitment to universal broadband access.  Broadband, and mobile connectivity, are probably already an essential utility (along with water and electricity) and we should ensure everyone can benefit from the potential they offer, as citizens, and for the economic opportunity connectivity offers – every part of the UK can play its part in our economic revival, if they have the download speed!

Our final door knocking of the Country Tour has us enjoy the sunshine and views of the Jubillee Tower on the moors above Darwen in the company of Will and his team, assisted by the red coated Graham Jones, PPC for Hyndburn. Again plenty of Labour voters, interspersed with the occasional Ukip wavering household – door knocking might take longer, with more to explain in detail, but it is usually worth it – some who start angry appreciate the time, get the detail, and are willing to think again, not least because it really is Labour or disaster, for their village or town.   After watching Huw gently, firmly persuade another waverer I top–off my tour with a Tory – Labour switcher ‘the IMF have done for the Tories today’ who has a good chat with Will about what needs to happen for the town.

With Will and team in Darwen

A final team photo before departing home – three days have seen us cover 650 miles, made at least that many contacts, in eight constituencies with over 100 Labour friends and colleagues. We wish them all the best for the next three weeks and look forward to seeing them win on May 7th.

Hywel Lloyd is a Co-founder of Labour: Coast & Country

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, Labour: Coast & Country.

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Defra threatens to cut funding to rural action network

Just before Christmas on a cold, snowy day in Buxton I was one of the guest speakers at Rural Action Derbyshire’s AGM.

I have known Rural Action Derbyshire (RAD), which is part of the ACRE network, and the excellent work it does in a number of incarnations over the years.

Like me it maybe that you know your local community council, rather than the ACRE network itself – either way, they do a remarkable job in our often forgotten rural areas, where deprivation still remains hidden and help is (literally) difficult to access.

The Network is the only nationwide organisation with a dedicated rural focus; building community resilience, strengthening local enterprise and supporting the most vulnerable in our society. In addition, it are the only network that provides advice to the 80,000 volunteers who keep England’s 10,000 village halls alive.

It has been supported by Government investment for ninety years, but just a few days ago, it was advised by civil servants to expect no further funding from Defra.

I, like Rural Action Derbyshire, am extremely concerned about the impact that the withdrawal of this funding will have on communities across High Peak and Derbyshire.

Concerned about the negative impact on the wide range of services and projects which RAD to help people in Derbyshire’s rural communities including: Wheels to Work, Oil Buying scheme, Village Halls support, Suicide Awareness Training, Agricultural Chaplaincy, community and neighbourhood planning as well as partnership work to support financially excluded people and foodbanks.

To pull the Defra funding now would fracture the Network, undermine decades of government investment and leave the most vulnerable in rural areas with nowhere to go.

If you are able to give examples of how Rural Action Derbyshire or your local community council has made a difference to you, your community or organisation, this would be very helpful.

Rural areas – as is the case in High Peak – are characterized by lower earnings and self-employment; made worse by the increase in the use of zero hours contracts. Coast & Country areas suffer more than most because of the cost of accessing even the most basic services and goods; we face poorer transport and digital infrastructure.

Non-urban areas are more likely to be in fuel poverty than those in urban areas. High Peak is a classic example of this, we have a lot of old, solid wall homes that are difficult and costly to insulate; with one in eight High Peak families living in fuel poverty.

These are all issues with which Rural Action Derbyshire, and its fellow community councils in the ACRE network, seek to help people living in rural areas – through practical schemes such as Wheels to Work or the community oil buying scheme.

At that snowy pre-Christmas meeting I was happy – and pleased – to say that Labour not only welcomed the ACRE Network’s rural manifesto but that it fitted well with much of the thinking of the shadow Defra team. I have already taken up the issue with Labour’s Huw Irranca-Davies – and signed the petition –and will, as Leader of High Peak Borough Council, write to the Secretary of State to ask her not to withdraw funding.

We only have one week to influence DEFRA’s decision. You can show your support for Rural Action Derbyshire and the wider ACRE Network by signing the ACRE Network online petition now at http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/73418

Please urgently write to Rt Hon Elizabeth Truss MP, Secretary of State for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs, Nobel House, 17 Smith Square, London, SW1P 3JR or email her at defra.helpline@defra.gsi.gov.uk to ask her not to withdraw funding from the ACRE Network.

Caitlin Bisknell is the PPC for High Peak | @CaitlinBisknell

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, Labour: Coast & Country.