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All the main political parties responded to the plea by Action for Communities in Rural England - the pressure grou...
All the main political parties responded to the plea by Action for Communities in Rural England - the pressure group bringing together countryside interests - for issues raised by last year's rural white paper not to be forced of the agenda in the run up to the general election, reports Radio 4's Farming Today programme.

ACRE's plea was not just for more money to be spent on education, transport, law and order, and jobs in rural areas, but to make sure the infrastructure was in place to back up policies.

The government claimed its white paper does make such a commitment.

Junior agriculture minister Tim Boswell commented: 'It was the first serious look at the problems and opportunities of rural areas....A lot of thought went into it and the updates from that - the experience we've got from the operation of the rural white paper in practice, the advice and encouragement we've had from outside bodies - will all help in drawing up our policies for the general election.

'There should be no conflict between sustainable development, the creation or maintenance of rural jobs, and a decent environment. People talk in terms of either or: we can either have a nice countryside or jobs.

'It cannot work like that because you will not have a good countryside unless it is a thriving countryside. You will not have a beautiful countryside unless you have reasonable prosperity. So working at positive action to create rural jobs is very much part of our agenda'.

All the political parties agreed that reform of the common agricultural policy must move away from production support and concentrate more on rewarding farmers for working with the environment and supporting rural development.

According to the Liberal Democrats' rural affairs spokesman Paul Tyler the government white paper is welcome but it does not go far enough.

He said : 'Our own paper this week will demonstrate there are some things that could be done now. You don't have to wait until after the election.

'A very simple one would be to extend uniform business relief to shops and post offices in rural areas instead of having to wait until after the election, when they may not be there to carry it out anyway.

'In essence, what we have to make certain is that the investment that goes into rural areas is spread sufficiently well to ensure that the major gaps in terms of service provision - be it in terms of transport or housing or, more obviously, in terms of access to medical and social services provision - must be filled.

'And it's going to take some time. I'm not one of those people who think there is going to be a magic wand which will suddenly transform the deprivation and dereliction that we see in so much of rural Britain today. It won't happen overnight, but we have to aim in that direction'.

Labour MP Colin Pickthall, who is leading the party's Rural Affairs Campaign, echoes ideas about CAP reform and says Labour will commit more money to rural needs in each sector of government expenditure.

He commented: 'The policy is aimed to ensure that no one in rural areas is seriously disadvantaged by isolation or by the cost of their services.

'To that end we've got not only to find the funding but we have to give responsible authorities - the planners, the health authorities, the transport and housing authorities and so on -specific obligations to produce programmes to meet the needs of rural communities in their areas.

'We know that small rural schools cost an awful lot more money than larger schools in towns and conurbations, so the country already spends more money on those schools. We believe that is necessary and we may have to spend more, certainly in terms of the technologies that those schools require to keep them in touch with developments elsewhere in the educational world.

'And exactly the same goes for health. The same goes for transport, so we will have to spend proportionately more money on all of those if we are to keep the environment anything like decent in rural areas and get people to work and get people to essential services'.

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