One of the discernible outcomes of the coronavirus pandemic has been the emergence of a ‘levelling up’ debate.
The BBC, in particular, seems to have a daily reflection on how the pandemic has widened the UK’s social inequity and how tackling it will be a priority once things have returned to normal.
This notion of closing the gap across different social and economic strata – a gap, it must be added, which was there long before the pandemic – has been grasped in many different sectors, and now it is agriculture’s turn to seize the zeitgeist with the NFU’s ‘Levelling up rural Britain’ report.
With a timely choice of tone and language, the report joins the likes of the CLA’s ‘Rural Powerhouse’ campaign by embracing a can-do approach which will hopefully show Ministers that farming is willing and able, with the right Government support, to contribute to the wider economic recovery.
Positioning agriculture as the central axis for rural prosperity is the right thing to do, but ensuring that UK governments actually provide more than warm words of encouragement will be a task made even more daunting by the strain Covid-19 has placed on the public purse.
Worse still, as Abi Reader alludes to in this week’s Farming Matters, lobbying can often be in vain as shown by the Welsh Government’s shameful actions on Nitrate Vulnerable Zone regulations.
It is a fine balance the unions and other organisations must tread between harnessing contemporary political rhetoric for the good of the industry, while at the same avoiding the trap of becoming merely a ministerial lapdog which politicians feel can be easily appeased.
With the devastation wrought by Covid-19 set to change huge aspects of this country’s social and commercial reality, be that where people choose to work, live, holiday, or their interest in food provenance, agriculture and rural Britain is well placed to meet the needs of a population in flux.
For that to happen though, Ministers will have to provide the right support and regulatory structure which allows agriculture, and rural Britain, to meet their full potential.