Taking back control in Plymouth | Pamela Buchan

The local elections are fast approaching across the UK and Plymouth City Council is one of two key targets for Labour outside of London. Only two seats are required to take control back from the Conservatives in this historic coastal city. Since its formation as a unitary authority in 1998, control has swung between Labour and Conservative leading it to be viewed as a bellwether council. Consideration of its coastal culture and location nestled between sea and rural Devon and Cornwall, might shed some insight as to why Labour has not managed to hold on to Plymouth, a city whose population would elsewhere be considered natural Labour.

A recent roundtable with Sue Hayman, Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, saw Labour councillors, educational, research, environmental, and business representatives, come together to discuss the economic and policy challenges in a coastal city. One of Plymouth’s key difficulties is lack of adequate transport infrastructure to the rest of the UK which is frequently cited as a barrier to companies moving in. Similarly, graduates see it as a mark of success when they move away from the city for work. This produces a chicken and egg situation of insufficient human resources and infrastructure deterring companies, then a lack of opportunities for residents and graduates leading to low-pay employment and net migration of skilled employees. Without a substantial injection of investment – and coastal cities fare badly with the funding formulas used by government – the stalemate can only be cracked with innovative approaches such as co-operatives, startup hubs, and community enterprise. But this can only be successful if it brings the community with it and complements the values of the city.

The traditional conservatism of the rural surrounds of this city, combined with a strong naval and maritime cultural and economic history, has not been well understood by the national Labour Party. Recent research by the Fabians uncovered a prevailing perception of Labour as an urban party that views rural and isolated communities as simple-minded and does not value or understand our challenges. In Plymouth, Labour faces a constant challenge to not be viewed as “anti-defence”, creating a conflict of values for those who value independence of individual and nation, but for whom neo-liberal conservatism and austerity has only done harm. It could be argued that this found an outward expression in one of the highest Brexit votes in the country.

Standing in a ward such as Honicknowle, where deprivation is high and there are residents who have never seen the sea, it’s clear that a Labour council is urgently needed to provide innovative approaches to creation of opportunities and improvement of wellbeing. To make a substantial and lasting difference we need to not only take the council in 2018 but to hold it for years to come.

Pamela Buchan | ‎@Asterinidae

 

 

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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.

The A303: The Chancellor’s road to the few

One of the common challenges of living on the coast, or in the country, is the smaller size of the local economy. That can be partly a question of the nature of the land, or sea, and partly the smaller population of people to participate in that economy, as producers, sellers or buyers. Anything that can help expand those numbers offers an economic opportunity for working people of coast and country, and should, therefore, be something the Labour Party supports.

While some commentators consider road and rail infrastructure as the answer to improved economic opportunity, those types of enhancement only benefit a very specific location, or population, and often take decades to produce that benefit.

A better, more systemic way to enhance the economic potential, and benefit, of all communities across the UK, would be to provide decent broadband and mobile coverage. Another, even quicker approach, would be to look at enhancing tourism by reducing VAT on hotels, B&Bs and attractions, as proposed by the Cut Tourism VAT campaign. Their proposal, to cut VAT on tourism attractions and accommodation from 20% to 5%, would boost jobs and growth in all parts of the UK.

Their evidence shows that across Europe – from Greece to Germany, from Spain to Sweden – a cut in VAT has delivered results. In Ireland, a cut in tourism VAT from 13.5% to 9% in 2012 led to a significant increase in the number of international tourism receipts being taken and 20,000 direct tourism jobs being created. Cutting tourism VAT and attracting more international visitors will make a huge difference to plugging the UK’s current trade deficit.

And of course this is something that British families can also benefit from. Given the cost of living crisis they have experienced don’t they deserve a break? Don’t they deserve a level playing field with families in Europe? A recent survey by Mumsnet shows that mums think they do. An overwhelming majority (87%) feel that it is a good idea for UK rates of VAT to at least fall in line with European averages. Even better, a 2014 report by the Nevin Economic Research Institute praised the Irish reduction of tourism VAT as ‘notably progressive, impacting positively on lower-income households.”

Recently the Chancellor was asked a simple question: will the UK follow 25 other EU countries in reducing this rate of VAT? His answer, in short, was ‘no’, claiming that cutting VAT for attractions and accommodation had not led to a boost in economic activity in other countries (when the evidence suggests otherwise!)

His answer to boosting tourism is to just invest in the A303 to Devon. There is nothing wrong with improving a lifeline to Devon, a beating heart of the tourism industry, but he is missing a national opportunity, for communities of coast, country and also the nation – cutting tourism VAT, would, in the medium term increase tax revenues to the Treasury and enable the Government to invest in the A303, or indeed anywhere else, while also creating over 120,000 jobs nationwide.  And of course cutting tourism VAT will boost the entire industry in one or two years.

Thankfully Ed Balls gets it, and can see that there could be a place for cutting tourism VAT in Labour’s Better Plan, an opportunity to bring economic growth to all communities of the UK.

Hywel Lloyd is a Co-Founder of Labour:Coast & Country and previously an Advisor to Labour Defra and DCLG Ministers – he writes here in a personal capacity. 

Off the Beaten Tracks

A recent study by Labour has warned that more than 30 million miles of bus journeys have been lost to cuts, leaving many people and communities isolated. And it is Britain’s rural areas that are hit worst. The Labour frontbench’s excellent new shadow secretary of state for transport, Michael Dugher, claims that vital rural routes have been the first to suffer from coalition transport cuts, which is further exacerbated by the 25 per cent increase in bus fares since 2010 – a rise five times higher than wages.

To be completely frank, those of us living in rural areas could have told anybody this without recourse to an expensive study. Indeed, this is something that I can personally vouch for: until relatively recently I was a long-term unemployed young person living in the Norfolk countryside. In this situation, access to areas of opportunity was all-important to my prospects of finding gainful employment. I was, however, enormously held back by public transport deficiencies – partly brought about by budget cuts, with poor planning also being a problem. Due to these deficiencies, a number of important local areas of employment were difficult to get to or back from. As a result, I could not physically get to numerous potential jobs, even though they were within my officially designated job search area. Indeed, the journey to the job centre itself was a round-trip of 30 miles, with the work programme an even bigger commute of 50 miles there and back by public buses. This was uncomfortable, time-consuming and very expensive for someone living on £70 a week.

With the public transport cuts brought about by the coalition government, numerous communities, up and down the United Kingdom, find themselves cut off and isolated. Anna Turley, the brilliant parliamentary candidate for Redcar, has highlighted the plight of a woman named Jean who she met one morning on a doorstep session in the village of Lazenby. She was waiting for a taxi to take her to her GP. It soon became clear to Anna that there was now no bus service operating in the village at all, leaving many residents who were not able, or could not afford to learn, to drive either reliant on expensive taxis – eating in to already limited pensions or insufficient minimum wages – or be left stranded.

It is instances such a this that make Labour’s announcement on the re-regulation of bus services in the provinces – until now a privilege only benefiting Londoners, who would surely be dismayed if their buses were run the way most people’s are – absolutely vital and very welcome to beleaguered non-urban communities. For Lazenby, the Arriva bus service, which holds a near-monopoly on services in Redcar and Cleveland, cut the route and were completely unaccountable to the public, despite pressure from local councillors.

Labour’s commitment to re-regulate bus services outside London will give the regions more control over their public transport systems. In this way, the isolation felt by the village of Lazenby, or my own difficulty accessing areas of opportunity, will not be repeated.

While this is good, it almost goes without saying that a Labour government’s public transport reforms must go further if it is to alleviate the pressure felt by people in coast and country areas and form a recovery that benefits the many rather than just a few.

This is something that Labour: Coast & Country’s first publication, Off the Beaten Tracks, has attempted to highlight and champion within the Labour movement:

Community transport initiatives, such as Wigtownshire Community Transport in south-west Scotland, offers a good example of alternative schemes that help alleviate rural isolation. The WCT is innovative in that it makes use of council, and even NHS, vehicles during their downtime, making their use more efficient. Overall, the WCT – and other similar initiatives highlighted in Off the Beaten Tracks – represents an important lifeline for the non-urban communities it serves.

Bwcabus, funded by the European Union, in the Vale of Glamorgan, operates on demand and provides a flexible service through ‘dynamic scheduling’ – a schedule that reacts and changes according to daily variations in demand. As such, it is a bus service with no set timetable.

This system of ‘dynamic scheduling’ makes use of sophisticated technology, incorporating satellite communication and a computerised scheduling and booking module. This effectively enables residents to call the service at least three hours before the journey to book a bus. The booking is then added to the route, scheduled and printed. Bwcabus has been in service for five years and has gone from strength to strength in that time. It has also been very well received locally, gaining 100 per cent satisfaction ratings for the quality of the service. There has also been a staggering 40 per cent increase in public transport use in the area.

While the technology is advanced and this project has thus far been limited to one area, we must ask why similar systems con not be rolled-out across different parts of the UK. I would urge the Labour party to bring this Welsh innovation in to consideration.

Off the Beaten Tracks also advocates the avoidance of siloed approaches to transport in favour of the creation of integrated transport systems. Effectively, this would remove the command and control influence of Westminster from bus and other transport services in Coast & Country areas, and bring decision-making down to individual communities. It is perhaps best described as the ‘common sense’ approach, with councils, bus, train and other transport coming together to design mutually beneficial services, creating something truly joined up and integrated. As a result, bus services would work in time with train times; public transport would be routed to provide access to public service, like healthcare; and long-term planning can be introduced to local transport concerns.

Ultimately, I cannot emphasise enough the importance of good transport links – of physical connectivity and access to goods, services, healthcare, employment, entertainment – to rural communities and people. I would even describe transport as one of Britain’s great social and economic equalisers. In communities where these necessities of life, aspiration and care cannot be accessed by all people, then inequality and poverty inevitably follows. This is what the Tories’ ‘austerity transport’ has reduced many communities to, and what the Labour party must fight to reverse and better.

Labour needs a revolution in its thinking and approach to public transport if Britain is to get the transport infrastructure it needs.

Jack Eddy is national coordinator for Labour: Coast & Country and an executive committee member of the Labour Transport Group | @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.

Devolution should include Town and Parish . . . . Conference Diary

The conference fringe is as varied and diverse as the issues that face coast and country communities.  This year with the Scottish vote the question of who decides what emerges in most fringe event discussions, be that the value of community pubs, the choice of the second runway or how to deliver new housing.

Two reoccurring themes crop up – planning is a core issues that we need to get right, balancing local and national interests and that there’s a lot local government could do, especially when you look beyond just city authorities . . .

Neighbourhood planning, introduced in the 2011 Localism Act, has a growing following in communities across England.  It is proving to be a good way of engaging people in the nature of their place and how to plan for its future.  Labour should build on this success and ensure that it rolls out across the whole of England.  

In doing so Labour should also do two things – it should ensure that every neighbourhood planning process thinks about the future of their place in terms of energy, and climate adaptation as well as housing and infrastructure, one consideration won’t succeed without the other.

Labour should also ensure that the learning from neighbourhood planning strengthens the role of town and parish councils.  These councils, covering almost all of England excepting London, are potentially well placed to take on more responsibility for their immediate place.  As one delegate put it why should our somewhat distant unitary authority be responsible for the planning permission of a small number of houses on the edge of town when most of those voting on the planning have no relationship with the place or the consequences.  

Given the parallels with the discussions on which MP vote for what, it is essential that Labour succeeds in securing a constitutional convention that looks at all the tiers of government, not just the partial question of the nature of our parliaments.  

A bottom up appreciation of the potential to expand the role of town and parish councils would bring some decisions back to local people in a way that is even more powerful than just devolving to cities or local authorities.  

A stronger role for the very local town and parish council would, in turn, lead to a more appropriate role for local authorities, be they unitary or combined. We should of course take this opportunity to help two tier areas determine the best governance approach for them.

More local planning decisions made very locally on the basis of a neighbourhood plan at parish or town level would involve more people in more of the decisions that affect them, and free up local authorities to make more local strategic planning decisions for the wider area. Here too there must be an expectation that they think about energy, climate change, housing and infrastructure in an integrated way.

Each tier of local government would benefit from devolved powers on housing, climate change adaptation, infrastructure, energy generation and supply; bringing these decisions closer to the people who should benefit from them and have to live with them.

That in turn might leave parliament the time to consider the nationally significant infrastructures, the big picture of energy provision, and the collective response to flooding and housing.

Hywel Lloyd, founder of Labour: Coast & Country | Conference 2014

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.

Tory bribery and publicity stunts in coast and country areas increase as the General Election looms

The cynicism of politics was manifest last week with the descent on Eastbourne of both Cameron and Osborne, bearing a £2m handout for the restoration of the burnt-out – and insured – pier. Here is a LibDem marginal target for Tory take-over next year being handed largesse by people who have hitherto shown no interest in the place.  Coincidence?

The money is to come from the new, tiny pot set aside for Coastal Communities, whose minister responsible was not in attendance. This cosmetic and opportunistic approach to politics demeans the whole process, when seaside towns like Eastbourne, Hastings and others cry out for improved transport, jobs etc. But the things that really matter are not funded.

No further from London than Brighton, Eastbourne has a rail link which takes 1 hr 45 minutes; and no rapid direct road route to anywhere. Its hospital is being eroded; but it has a higher-than-average proportion of elderly and disabled residents. Between Eastbourne and London lies the Weald, an area of great beauty but containing few jobs and hidden poverty.

£2m for a publicity stunt sums up the Government’s attitude to Coast and Country. The Tory ineptitude is further underlined by the contrast with Hastings, also a marginal  but one Labour will surely win next year, whose pier also burnt down some years ago but which received no such Government cash – they must be furious.

Labour must take a longer-term, more strategic position on this neglected section of our country.

Tom Serpell is a member of the Labour: Coast & Country steering committee.

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.