A House of Lords Committee has called for the creation of a joint Defra-Treasury Ministerial post to ensure rural funding is effectively prioritised and delivered after Brexit.
Peers on the Rural Economy Committee suggested the role could be combined with the ‘rural champion’ position, which is held by a junior Defra Minister who advocates for rural interests and promotes rural proofing across Government departments.
The recommendation was made as part of a wide-ranging report which also advised Ministers to put together a ‘comprehensive rural strategy’ to make sure the countryside can weather the challenges it is currently facing, such as Brexit, council cuts, an ageing population and suburbanisation.
This high-level framework would be supported by local rural strategies developed by councils and re-modelled Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPS) with rural subgroups or representatives.
Chair of the committee, Lord Foster of Bath, said: “Rural communities and the economies in them have been ignored and underrated for too long.
“We must act now to reverse this trend, but we can no longer allow the clear inequalities between the urban and rural to continue unchecked.
“A rural strategy would address challenges and realise potential in struggling and under-performing areas, and allow vibrant and thriving areas to develop further. Doing nothing is not an option.”
Other recommendations from the report include rolling out initiatives to tackle rural crime, such as Farm Watch and WhatsApp groups between farmers and police; changing the law to ensure landowners do not pay to clear up fly-tipped waste; providing rural crime training to magistrates, courts and the Crown Prosecution Service and toughening up sentences for certain offences.
The committee also suggested the Government should do more to support land-based apprenticeships and said there should be a focus on rural skills in local industrial strategies.
A range of measures to improve digital connectivity and housing were set out in the report too, such as giving people the right to request higher broadband speeds than they are currently entitled to and restoring a rural housing target for Homes England.