OCTOBER 29, 2008: There is a strong perception that rural affairs are being marginalised in DEFRA, according to a Parliamentary report.

The rural economy is having its economic potential stifled by a lack ofsupport from the department, according to the report.The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select committee said that rural economies already “punch above their weight” as 20% of Britain’s population live in rural areas but they provide 30% of the UK’s economic activity.Many rural business owners told the committee they suffered from a lack of phone connections and transport costs.Others said a lack of business buildings, affordable housing and workforce was driving their business into towns. The committee agreed with witnesses to the inquiry who said that DEFRA’s departmental strategic objective of ‘Strong Rural Communities’ was confusing and not easily understood.It said that now that climate change responsibilities had been removed from DEFRA it expected to see evidence of the department focusing more closely on its rural affairs responsibilities.Committee chairman, MP Michael Jack, said: “DEFRA must raise its game if it is to unlock the billions of pounds of untapped economic potential in the countryside.“Entrepreneurialism is ‘alive’ in the rural economy. But if it is to be ‘well’ government must now find a lasting solution to the challenges of affordable housing, transport costs and the maintenance of a skilled labour force.“DEFRA should look again at its rural departmental objectives as few have any belief that the current ones really will build a successful and sustainable rural economy.”

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