We may have been led to believe that the avalanche of Government announcements on “take out the trash day” last Friday, signalled the end of “work” for the year, but today holds one further surprise. As reported in the Telegraph, Defra has announced it will be “rural proofing” every new Government policy from now on.
The Torygraph piece, to help its readers understand what the countryside means, had some helpfully illustrative photos – two (no less) of the Defra Secretary of State Liz Truss, one showing a man with a shotgun and two dogs on a moorland (where are those pesky Hen Harriers?); one showing a hunt; and one showing Hambledon Hill hillfort in Dorset, recently purchased by the National Trust.
I’m not sure whether the Telegraph picture editor is having a quiet joke here, but Hambledon Hill was recently damaged when the local hunt careered over it. Hambledon Hill is a National Nature Reserve and one of the UK’s most important archaeology sites.
Is this really what the Telegraph thinks the countryside looks like? I suggest they get out of their London office a bit more.
Of course this rural proofing is good news for The Countryside Alliance. It means that they can effectively lobby fewer officials and ministers to achieve whatever it is they want to achieve, saving them money.
The new rural proofing will help families and businesses, according to the Government, responding to Lord Cameron’s (not a close relation to the PM) report snappily titled The Independent Rural Proofing Implementation Review (IRPIR?).
I searched in vain for any mention of nature, wildlife or the environment in Defra’s response. Defra – the E used to stand for the Environment, but I suspect that’s been quietly changed to something else – Economy perhaps?. Rural Affairs is clearly uppermost in the Secretary of State’s mind at the moment, as of course is Agriculture, always. Bizarrely though, neither agriculture nor farming were mentioned either.
The Countryside, evidently, as far as this Government is concerned, is somewhere people live and businesses work, and that’s it. “Rural Communities and Businesses rightly expect contribute to and benefit from economic and productivity growth”, spouts Truss.
But there are a couple of small issues behind all this rhetoric. Obviously there’s the fact that Defra has no money at all to do anything, other than create pointless taskforces and ambassadors.
Then there’s the cuts to rural local authorities: rural Dorset County Council, where I live, is consulting over closing all of its Youth Centres. And the changes to the way local authorities are funded, means that rural areas with larger numbers of retired or part-time workers, such as Dorset, will lose out because they have a lower base of business rate income.
Meanwhile urban areas with lots of business income but a younger population, will do much better! Westminster 1, Dorset 0, to use a footballing analogy. or rather, Westminster £1.6Bn Dorset 0. I could go on, but I won’t.
Thank goodness, then, for the Rural Ambassador, who will be able to put all of these things right, with a wave of her magic wand. Please do spoil us, Ambassador!