A Manifesto for 2019 | Towns of England, your time has come!

Britain’s towns had a higher profile at Labour Conference 2018 than they have ever had.  In addition to both Labour: COAST&COUNTRY (LCC) fringes, they were on the agenda of a Fabian fringe, a CPRE/Hastoe event, as well as other sessions where Lisa Nandy MP among others had an opportunity to speak up for towns everywhere.  And then post conference Labour’s party political broadcast jointed the party and spoke up for ‘your town’.

The local elections of 2019 offer Labour a real chance to land some of this understanding, as that election is almost exclusively being held at the district council tier, the councils that service many of the towns we are seeking to win.

LCC has always campaigned for the district and country council elections to have a bespoke national agenda that properly spoke to those places, and wasn’t a re-tread of a general election or urban take on life.  As one speaker at our fringes said “these elections aren’t about saving the NHS!!”.  No indeed, they are about the issues of rural and coastal communities who are less access to services than their urban friends, that have fewer choices of secondary education or primary care services, who see austerity making their town or village suffer, dis-connecting them with the almost abolition of bus services, and leaving them a dumping ground for the 1,000 new home estate.

With the ‘your town’ PPB we can see the powers that be are getting it; to help them set the right tone for Labour’s campaigning in 2019 at conference we launched ‘A Manifesto for 2019’  Please read or download it here; share it widely with your CLP, your district council candidates, and of course send us and the shadow front bench your thoughts on it!

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No places should be off-limits for Labour | James Bartholomeusz

LCC committee member James Bartholomeusz reflects on rural campaigning in the 2018 local elections.

Continue reading “No places should be off-limits for Labour | James Bartholomeusz”

A Manifesto for England | Hywel Lloyd

While much of the Labour family is rightly occupied with their local election campaign for tomorrow, some of the early steps in preparing for ‘The English election’ of 2019 (elections in 192 District Councils, 47 Unitaries and 33 Mets on 2nd May ’19), began last week.

Labour:COAST&COUNTRY (LCC) brought together seven of our newer MPs for a policy dinner, along with a small group of coast & country stakeholders, kindly hosted by Baroness Jan Royall, and supported by Calor UK.

A wide ranging discussion highlighted many of the issues that non-urban CLPs also report to us at branch and whole CLP meetings, in whichever part of the country they reside, including the following examples:

  • The issues of education provision, the challenges of reduced provision in non-urban areas, the lack of choice and of access, and the consequences for opportunity and social mobility;
  • Of housing, and how some of the worst housing provision, and the greatest challenge of availability and affordability occurs in coast and country areas across the UK and England;
  • If you are poor outside of a city it is much harder to deal with, and less is available to support you and your family; with these services also being as decimated by austerity as urban public services;
  • And that in many parts of the UK there is now a dearth of transport that could be called ‘public service’ transport – no trains, and few buses . . .
  • The importance of understanding that many of these issues are about how the communities, of coast and country, can thrive, and are much the same, albeit with a different scale and density, as those facing urban communities that Labour more readily represents;
  • How to ensure funding for local services properly reflects need, and how services can be delivered to reflect local settings and circumstance;
  • And finally the wider question of representation – how does Labour properly engage with, and be seen to engage with, the whole of the UK, and England, so as to have a better chance of governing the whole of the nation.

Only with such a whole nation view, and a whole nation view of what’s fair, might we get near to addressing the fundamental causes of Brexit and the divides between remainers, and leavers; those from somewhere or anywhere, so as to be able to be the next government of the United Kingdom.  Which led us to consider where policy solutions might lie:

  • As one participant put it, key are polices that will lead to change which takes a whole nation view of fairness, balance and every child, and citizen mattering;
  • So we will need to think about funding for places and local government;
  • About procurement and how it works for communities;
  • About digitisation, when connectivity continues to be an issue;
  • And about how more local decision making can support local communities more effectively;
  • And how to be the community (re) investment party;
  • Building on the assets that communities have, as well as addressing the needs yet to be met

Labour stands at a cross roads – for the first time in a long time it has hundreds of members in every part of the country, in every constituency – they could be a platform for a Labour government that could run the country for the many, that recognised the issues facing communities of coast, country and city are often the same.

May 2019 would be the time to pick up this baton to run with a Manifesto for England; helping prove Labour’s national appeal across the many and varied places that make England what it is.

LCC will be developing these ideas for the shadow cabinet and colleagues to consider in the summer, as they start focusing on the challenge of May 2019.  If you and your CLP have examples of good ideas and delivery that address these issues, or others that affect coast or county communities, please do drop us a line at info@labourcoastandcountry.org.uk.

That’s Tory territory, isn’t it? | Sandy Martin MP

When I challenged the Secretary of State to provide more resources for the Police in Suffolk in September, Sarah Newton, the junior minister, clearly mis-heard “Southwark” for “Suffolk” and replied that it was all the fault of Sadiq Khan.

Leaving aside the blatant buck-passing that was going on, it is obvious that the Minister was conditioned to believe that Labour MPs come from London, or from “oop North”, or from Wales – anywhere but the Shire Counties.  Tragically, far too often the Labour Party appears to fall into the same trap.

The fact is, we need to be able to win in Shire Counties – constituencies such as St Albans and Norwich North depend on their County Councils for much of their public spending and thus for the residents’ experience of government.  It is no coincidence, I believe, that the extraordinary County Council election result in 1993 which left the Conservatives in England in control of just one single County – Buckinghamshire – led on to a General Election where Labour won seats that it had never even contemplated.

Labour has a vision of society which should work in rural areas.  We believe in public transport.  We believe in public education, in a decent health service, in properly resourced police services.  All of these things matter to people in rural areas just as much as they do in urban areas.  And in addition, we have a view of small businesses and of protection of the environment which does not start from the bottom line of the company accounts, but from the needs of the people.

For too long the Labour Party has projected a corporatist image which quite rightly supports the needs of trade unionists working in large institutions but ignores the needs of small and micro businesses and in particular of sole traders.  Unlike the Conservative Party, Labour does not need to pander to the needs of multi-national corporations as we do not receive any significant amount in donations from them.  Unlike the Conservative Party, Labour has a commitment to fairness which can and should extend to the self-employed as well as to public sector and industrial sector workers.  And unlike the Conservative Party, we do not have an obsession with privatisation which leads services which should be delivered at the point of need to be instead profiled to maximise the profits of the contractor.

Housing, for instance, makes more profits for developers in greenfield locations, and if designed and built to cater for wealthy retired people.  Thus we have the paradox of disproportionate levels of building in very small towns, virtually none of which actually caters for the needs of local people. Conservative Councils are relatively good at maintaining roads in rural areas, but completely useless at maintaining bus services to run along them.  And while Conservative areas tend to attract the highest number of Free Schools, these are very often designed to please a minority of the local population – the “we don’t want our child mixing with the kids from the estate” mentality.

On all of these issues, Labour can and must win if we are to take back control of many of our Shire County Councils, convince the local voters that we are capable of winning and that we have a genuine alternative programme that can work for them, and ultimately win all those seats we need in the Shire Counties in a General Election in order to form a Labour Government.

Labour’s Coastal Consultation | Alex Mayer MEP

There are few more quintessentially English postcard images than deckchairs lining a sandy beach with a pier in the background. I am lucky that in my constituency there are many fantastic coastal towns that attract thousands of visitors on holiday. But for years now they have been faced with a real and growing set of problems.

There are of course special challenges for coastal communities; the nature of seasonal employment; being at the end of transport networks; poor quality housing often with a higher than average number of people living in bedsits and the threat of flooding. Meanwhile pressures on services, caused by a much older than average population coupled with austerity are just some of the harsher realities of seaside living.

After being let down by underinvestment from successive governments, a lack of hope for real change mixed with the current strand of anti-establishment politics, resulted in a strong vote to leave the European Union in many seaside towns. In my region, Waveney recorded a 63% Leave vote, Great Yarmouth 72% and Castle Point 73%.

Paradoxically, and indeed sadly, figures also show that seaside areas were large net recipients of EU funding including for the regeneration of Southend’s seafront, investment in the creative industries through organisations like Great Yarmouth’s SeaChange Arts and the Orbis Centre in Lowestoft, which has been instrumental in harnessing the opportunities of offshore wind.

European funding was rightly forward facing, using the skills of the local population and re-skilling, looking at the green jobs of the future, and moving away from the high volume day-tripper market to the under-tapped ‘staycation’ market, with more focus on visiting the natural heritage along the coast over penny machines, cheap beer and neon lights.

It is heartening that the Labour Party is currently undergoing a “Coastal Consultation” especially as is not so long ago that Labour MPs represented areas such as Clacton, Scarborough and Weymouth, and we can do so again. With Brexit on the horizon, it is now more important than ever that our party again builds an attractive offer for seaside towns, as it will fall to Labour to push a new postcard image of our seaside, where communities thrive as they look to the future.

Alex Mayer is the MEP for the East of England

Sustainable Villages: Rural Housing for the Future

Having lived for much of my life in the Forest of Dean, a glorious forest and a group of small communities between the Severn and the Wye, I’m all too aware of the problems, and in some cases the opportunities, that present themselves on the issue of rural housing.

As in most rural areas, we need quality affordable housing, especially social housing, so that those who grow up in the area can stay if they wish to, helping our communities to flourish. In debates on the recent Housing Act it was all too clear that the needs of rural areas were not properly understood or going to be addressed. Rural areas are not just a smaller version of urban communities; they have different strengths and different challenges.

The current system is creaking, if not failing to serve rural communities. Most experts and many Peers feel the Act will only make things worse, neither delivering more homes, nor homes that people can afford or want to have as part of their communities.  We need homes for people who live and work in our villages and small towns, who contribute to their daily life and well-being. The failure to provide these homes is fueling many of the challenges faced in rural areas with aging populations, the closure of schools, post offices, pubs and other hubs of village life.

It doesn’t have to be like this. Real localism should mean that local communities are part of the decision making and development process. Indeed when new housing and the future of a village, hamlet or town are considered with the community then often there is scope to develop a workable and consented plan or site development as local people can take ownership, metaphorically and often practically. With involvement and consent come houses that actually respond to local needs and fit the local setting – people and places aren’t and don’t have to be put upon.

All over the country we can see good practice that should be followed as a matter of course. I will highlight one example, a small village based development proposed by a local farmer in Eakring (in Newark & Sherwood). The development is being explored with the local community in a pre-application exhibition. That gives details of the farmer landowner, the local builder and local architect while setting out a subtle, sensitive development designed to sit low in the landscape, built to high sustainability and habitat standards in response to local need. It highlights the previous use of the site, having been used for farm worker accommodation up until the 1940s.

There are many other instances of a local landowner wanting to contribute to the success of a thriving village, in partnership with the community of the village.

The round table discussion that prompted this collection of essays highlighted some of the failings, and thankfully more of the solutions that could sustainably revive rural housing across the country. I commend them to you, as a package of ideas, examples and observations from participants across the rural housing ‘system’ – a builder, a councillor, a rural housing enabler, to a rural campaigner – with views encompassing east, west, north and south.

Together they help identify a route forward – that takes a long term view, that supports homes to rent as much as homes to own, that values engaging and involving existing communities in their development, that grows community led and based building, that locks in long term ownership, that values rural exemption sites, and taken together have the potential to help ensure sustainable villages to come – where communities would welcome new homes and there is the prospect of more homes not less.

Most people would assume that the Conservatives are the champions of rural communities, but I am proud of the crucial role that my Party has played and will continue to play. Housing is critical to the wellbeing of a community, to families and individuals – homes are not merely bricks and mortar, they provide people with security and dignity. Labour has always been the party to take housing need seriously.

I look forward to working with many others to ensure that those needs will be addressed following the passing of this Act; working with all the people and organisations that have contributed to this pamphlet, with landowners including perhaps the colleges of Oxbridge, and with other Peers, not least Lords Best and Cameron, to ensure a Labour led rural housing revolution and a Rural Housing Bill that really is fit for rural purpose.

Jan Royall – The Rt Hon., the Baroness Royall of Blaisdon, Labour Peer

This blog is one of a number of essays prompted by Labour: COAST & COUNTRY’s Rural Housing programme; the full collection of essays will be published in the autumn.

Towards a More Resilient, SME Friendly Rural Economy

As a One Nation Labour Party we need to expand our horizons beyond haphazard thinking on rural issues in order to secure a sustainable economy for Britain’s countryside and reach out to the rural electorate.

What must be recognised is that rural areas are subject to an intrinsic ‘separation’, a root cause of so many rural problems. Some have referred to this as ‘rural isolation’, but this is an insufficient term with an insufficient focus.

Where does this feeling of separation come from? Through my work, I have heard complaints and concerns up and down the UK and what is interesting is that there is a regular theme: Distance – distance from services, distance from health and social care, distance from employment and areas of opportunity, distance from entertainment, distance from education and training facilities. Where there exists a distance to these essentials of life, work and aspiration, there comes a vacuum – an inherent disconnection of what is needed from what is attainable.

Because of this, there is a marked difference between services being “available” and services being genuinely “accessible” – this difference makes policies based around “choice” untenable. After all, the rural vacuum dictates that if it is a choice between using a hospital 25 miles away or another hospital 75 miles away; or applying for a part-time job 12 miles away, or applying for a full-time job in the same town, but that requires you to work at times not covered by public transport, then there is no choice. What we must focus on is language and policy of growth, opportunity and accessibility.

In a practical sense, the ‘vacuum’ can take what is a difficult, common problem and make it impossible to overcome.

Looking specifically at rural Businesses and Employment, the difficulties faced in the countryside are numerous. Not all rural residents are wealthy, with rural poverty a serious problem – over 1.6 million rural people live in poverty after housing costs and 2.2 million live in fuel poverty. However, this is not the accepted view of rural living because rural poverty is not found in whole areas, but at an individual level, hidden and often next to great wealth.

It must be appreciated that Rural Poverty is not necessarily caused by unemployment, but by low pay and underemployment, combined and exacerbated by higher costs in rural areas, so that a single person living in a village would need to earn at least 50% above the minimum wage to make ends meet.

And when we also consider that anywhere between 54-80% of new jobs created since 2010 have been in London, the lack of opportunities and inability to access new full-time jobs, predominantly becoming available in London or (to a lesser extent) regional cities, adds to the ‘Rural Cost of Living Crisis’.

In order to tackle this problem, and so increase pay and full-time employment opportunities, Labour needs to allow jobs and businesses to come to villages, rather than just expecting rural residents to commute to them.

The willingness of people to create new enterprises in rural areas and the ability for these enterprises to grow is, in part, connected to the quality of life within each community. Increasingly, as regional economies are sacrificed to safeguard the growth of London, and austerity continues to bite, public services are harder to come by, even in relatively large rural towns.

So, the impact of public spending cuts on bus services, libraries, the Royal Mail service hits rural businesses harder, as a lack of infrastructure inevitably results in higher business costs and by causing potential customers to move to areas where there are more opportunities. What is more, entrepreneurs themselves are not attracted to live in a village or market town if it lacks for shops, pubs, post offices, health services, schools and training, broadband and connectivity to other areas.

Therefore, services underpin the opportunities for rural growth, employment and pay, and so must be safeguarded and encouraged.

One suggestion, floated by Lord Jim Knight, is for the Department for Transport to be given responsibility for broadband roll-out. This will enable a more strategic appreciation and approach to fibre optic roll-out, as the DfT would be better able to recognise areas the ‘market’ won’t reach – through initiatives like HS2 – and encourage the faster introduction of fibre-optic broadband in areas most in need.

This would alter the role of the DfT to one of actively promoting ‘connectability’ and ‘accessibility’ of people.

What about the sustainability of local community shops?

This links in well with the concept of promoting community action as a way of safeguarding services and businesses – and thereby contributing to rural living standards and maintaining the economy. With the help of initiatives such as the Plunkett Foundation, communities themselves are beginning to take control of their services through community-owned co-operatives. As it stands, there are currently 319 community-owned shops and 22 co-operative pubs. A future Labour Government would need to think how best to encourage such community action in ways that make them more widespread and increase their sustainability .

New Rural Housing

There is a clear need for significant amounts of new housing in the countryside, particularly to allow young people to stay in areas close to their families. Such additional housing also contributes to the sustainability of rural settlements by providing additional users for facilities such as schools, village shops, community facilities and bus services. Labour has already pledged a massive house-building programme should they come to Government. However, whilst this is positive, we must be cautious. Although concern for local areas and opposition to new housing can (frequently with good reason) be seen as NIMBYISM, it should not mask the genuine and justifiable anxiety for the greenbelt, community character and social infrastructure.

Tourism remains a major factor in Britain’s rural economy and the loss of the green-belt has the potential to harmfully effect the tourist industry in some areas. What is more, there is little point to constructing housing in a village or town that lacks the social infrastructure – be it schools, jobs, transport etc – to cope with the inevitable influx of new people. Likewise, there is little point in building the wrong type of housing to meet the needs of the area – although the focus should most often be on social/rental builds, rather than “affordable” housing (which in the current climate is rarely that “affordable”), that may not always be the case everywhere. So, whilst a building plan is needed urgently in rural areas, it must be undertaken gradually, with these factors in mind and with the consensus of local people.

In addition to this, there is a lot that is good for the countryside in the policy areas that Labour has already mapped out: Labour’s plan to devolve government, for economic growth throughout the UK, is good for rural areas; likewise, the creation of a regional banking system to help and encourage SMEs is a positive step and sorely needed.

Greater Resilience from Shocks Needed

However, let us not forget agriculture and horticulture, which remain important industries in rural areas contributing around 17.5% to these economies. Despite difficulties, both still offer excellent opportunities, as well as a little acknowledged need, for improvement and innovation. There are serious weaknesses in our supply chains for all manner of produce and we are over-dependent on the import of foodstuffs and the distribution of supplies via supermarkets. This leaves us very vulnerable to shocks in the system – such as fuel shortages or financial breakdown – which inevitably affects prices and only worsens the cost of living crisis. Somewhat ironically, this usually has an adverse affect on rural households.

It goes without saying that farming and agriculture are undergoing particularly tough times. Income and output continue to fall and, across Europe, the permanent workforce continues to grow older . The abolition of the Agriculture Wages Board (AWB) by the Coalition will only serve to drive down pay and thus render already unpopular industries even more unappealing or unapproachable to prospective new workers.

And so, we need a revitalisation of the farming industries and greater resilience within our local supply chains. One suggestion involves local authorities carrying out an audit of land available in the public sector that could be allocated to new entrepreneur horticulturists. They could then be aided in establishing a business either as individuals or through social co-ops. Another suggestion I have long-championed is a cultural re-branding of farming and other horticultural industries, to entice new blood in to entering agricultural work.

More could be done in schools to promote greater understanding of the range of attractive opportunities farming presents as a career choice to both rural and urban youngsters and to make better links between subjects – such as geography, chemistry or biology – and their applications in agriculture.

Apprenticeships, already outlined by Labour as a key policy, would be an important part of this endeavour. Labour will need to do more to make apprenticeships applicable to agriculture, as well as to rural Britain in general. The Farming for the Future initiative (launched by Marks & Spencer) provides training through bursaries, graduate placements, scholarships for sustainable and innovation projects and postgraduate programmes . Labour would need to expand initiatives like these – talent and skill should be rewarded if agriculture is to recruit people with entrepreneurial ambition and the ability to make a positive impact both socially and environmentally.

We also need to explore the possibility of a nation-wide roll-out (delivered and structured on a regional level) of the ‘Farming Connect’ initiative, launched by the Labour Government in Wales. This initiative, among many other things, helps deliver training and supply equipment by covering 80% of costs to entrepreneurs that make use of the service. This encourages new blood in to the farming profession, as well as enabling greater diversity and innovation in businesses that are already established. If launched at a regional level across the UK, it is through this enterprise that Labour can deliver new ideas and initiatives to encourage the Agricultural & Horticultural industries.

One possible solution to encourage shorter local supply chains, and which could be delivered by a nation-wide “Farming Connect”, is greater use of polytunnel farming, in order to supply specific fruits and vegetables for local markets (or sold via an expanded farmer’s market, rather than go to big supermarkets). However, this idea requires further thought. Polytunnels certainly allow the possibility to be very efficient and innovative – increasing yields and allowing entrepreneurs to specialise in produce that may not be easy to grow outside.

That said, persistent criticisms of their use include a potentially negative impact on the tourist industry, due to their “ugly” design (although it should be noted that tourism in Spain seems unaffected, despite large-scale polytunnel farming being a frequent sight in the country).

Perhaps then, greater use of High or Solar Roof Tunnels offers a more viable alternative to the polytunnel, given that they are designed to blend in to scenery. What is more, Solar Tunnels provide similar flexibility to polytunnels – easily constructed, de-constructed and moved – whilst being more secure and less prone to irreparable damage. If rolled-out via “Farming Connect”, a Labour Government would be able to encourage greater use of High or Solar Tunnels in farming by helping to meet most of the costs in acquiring the knowledge and equipment necessary – other incentives may be required, but this is a good first step.

Over all, more needs to be done to show how the Party’s existing ideas apply to rural areas. Rural questions need to be answered and to do that we need to give policy a specifically rural dimension. And so we must ask: how will Labour ensure policies around businesses, skills and employment will be rural-proofed?

Prior to 2010, the office of the Rural Advocate and the Commission for Rural Communities (CRC) did a lot of good work in ensuring the rural perspective was considered at all levels of Government and that detailed research in to rural problems was carried out. In a very unpopular move, even among the Government’s backbenchers, both the Rural Advocate and the CRC were scrapped in 2010 by this coalition government. An incoming Labour Government should re-form this office, but with an increased budget and slightly wider jurisdiction.

Another suggestion for ensuring the countryside is at the heart of Government policy development, put forward by a Labour member at the Labour: Coast & Country Conference, is for the use of Equality Impact Assessments – similar to those used in the Health service – on the basis of ensuring rural equality. Adding to Labour’s Agenda for greater devolution, with regional Ministers to safeguard regional issues and maintain even growth, Rural EIAs could potentially be utilised as part of that initiative.

Now is the time for the Labour Party to develop and promote a Rural Manifesto for the 2015 General Election. Only through an initiative of this kind will we be able to communicate the party’s ideas to rural areas, laying down the foundations of long-term prosperity in the countryside. Such a project not only holds the potential for a Labour Government to ensure rural areas are a place of opportunity and growth, but would also see us reach out to rural Britain in a way not attempted by Labour since the great Government of 1945.

This article was also published at:http://lfig.org/towards-a-more-resilient-sme-friendly-rural-economy/

Jack Eddy is Co-ordinator for Labour: Coast & Country and author of ‘The Proposal for Labour’s Rural Manifesto’.

@NorfolkJackEddy

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.