Morgan and Farron speak on rural levelling up

Rural issues are often sidelined in the Commons and in public policy. Yesterday, Tim Farron and Helen Morgan made significant contributions to the rural levelling up debate in the Commons chamber.

The debate, secured Selaine Saxby Conservative MP for North Devon, was sparsely attended but there were some strong speeches (Hansard).

Helen Morgan and Tim Farron highlighted the way that farming is being treated under the Conservative government, though the botched introduction of the Environmental Land Management scheme (ELMS) and trade deals. Rural transport was a major issue, trains, buses and access to rail stations. Hospitals of course featured. Ambulance delays. Bed blocking. The inability to attract staff because there is nowhere local and affordable to live. And the ever difficulty of getting a decent broadband connection in rural areas to allow businesses to thrive (I might add education and medical services to that list also).

Helen Morgan

Levelling up… had not a lot of meaning for the northern towns that it was aimed at, it had virtually none at all for rural Britain. If we want our rural communities on a level playing field with the towns in the north, and indeed the south, we need to address the causes of the problems that have led to dysfunction in many sectors of the economy and society.

We have young people leaving rural areas in search of work at the same time that local employers from all sectors are struggling to fill vacancies. Our hospitals are full to capacity, with ambulances queuing outside the front, while beds are taken up by people who could be cared for at home. We have pensioners and young people desperate to get out into the towns to spend their money, but they have no cars and no alternative way to get there…

Shropshire council is reportedly spending 84% of its budget on social care. As the population gets older, the pressure on services gets higher and more young people leave—and the cycle continues. If rural Britain is going to thrive, that cycle needs to be reversed.

It should start with the industry that is already the success story of rural Britain: farming. However, the Conservatives have taken our farmers for granted by bargaining away their level trading field for one pitched firmly in favour of their Australian and New Zealand competitors…

It is not surprising that the UK is one of the least efficient countries in Europe when… one in 10 of my constituents still cannot get internet speeds above 10 megabytes per second. It is not fair to expect rural businesses to compete with their urban counterparts when they cannot connect with their customers or suppliers. Connecting rural areas both digitally and physically is key to improving their futures.

We live in a country where nearly £18 billion has been spent on a rail service in one of the best-connected cities in the world, but in Shropshire on a Sunday there is only one bus service running in the whole of the county, and Market Drayton is at risk of losing its one-hourly service on a Saturday as well. Boosting bus services will reconnect communities, enable young people to access work and social opportunities, and benefit healthcare, the economy and the environment.

The reality is that the Conservatives have taken the votes of rural Britain for granted for so long they have just stopped listening to its needs…

We need to fund our councils fairly so they can provide not only the social care to free up our hospitals and ambulance services, but the other services taxpayers expect to improve the quality of life of all residents. We need to invest in our digital infrastructure for businesses, and to encourage young people to stay and work in the local area. We need to allow councils to develop and deliver housing plans that meet the specific requirements of their economies and communities.

Tim Farron

“You cannot eat the view.”

Many people in our communities are struggling, now more than ever, to make ends meet. Public services are struggling to do the same because, as we know, in rural communities public services cost more money to run… Those living in communities such as Cumbria feel overlooked and taken for granted by this Government and that must end…

In my community, over the past two years, the number of holiday lets has increased by more than a third. We can see a clearing out of the long-term private rented sector, which means that families and individuals are being not just evicted from their homes, but ejected from their communities…

We have a bed-blocking rate of 32% in our local hospital trust at present, because the places where care workers would have been able to live are no longer available or affordable for them…

It is a wonderful thing to be a farmer. What do they do every morning? They wake up and have on their to-do list to feed the country and save the planet. What an awesome task it is that we give our farmers. We should be grateful to them, yet the Government’s botching of the transition to the new [ELMS] system and their signing of unfair trade deals that throw our farmers under the bus show how little they value our farmers…

Rural schools are smaller. Their budgets are smaller to start off with and the unfunded pay rises and unfunded increases in energy costs mean that every single one of the schools I have spoken to in my constituency over the last week are planning staff reductions. That will only hurt our children. The Government do not understand that they need to support rural school funding, and it is only the children who will suffer.

* Andy Boddington is a Lib Dem councillor in Shropshire. He blogs at andybodders.co.uk. He is Thursday editor of Lib Dem Voice.

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3 Comments

  • ‘The debate… was sparsely attended’. What a shame. And sadly rather proves the point that ‘Rural issues are often sidelined in the Commons and in public policy.’

  • Is there any way we can find find out which Tory MPs attended the debate?
    By default we will then know those Tories who absented themselves, might be a useful campaigning tool in rural constituencies. No doubt they will all have good excuses!

  • David Garlick 11th Nov '22 - 8:48pm

    A very long term solution may be a Community Land Trust. Homes bought by the trust for rent by the local community with profits accumulated for future purchases.
    A joint approach to this involving farmers contributing redundant farm buildings for development into Trust properties could be a way to bring a shared income to the farmer/Trust, home(s) for locals and sustainable properties repurposed using local trades people employing apprentices. With a bit (lot) of effort it could happen.

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