The Environment, Food & Rural Affairs Committee has published their Farming in the Uplands report. The full report can be downloaded here. This Report builds on many of the issues highlighted by the High Ground, High Potential report published by the Commission for Rural Communities, last year.
A key recommendation from the report is that Ministers should consider reintroducing direct payments coupled to numbers of livestock (headage payments) for hard-pressed hill farmers in the uplands. No doubt a controversial proposal.
The report also calls on the Government to demonstrate a stronger commitment to upland communities. Having abolished the Commission for Rural Communities, the public body that advised Government on rural issues, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs must ensure that rural policies and their delivery are not neglected. To that end the cross-party MPs on the Select Committee call on Ministers to:
· Publish a strategy for the uplands that sets out a clear action plan with practical measures to be implemented immediately.
· Provide strong leadership across all Government departments to make sure that rural and upland communities get a fair deal.
· Create a statutory definition of the uplands to assist the Government in targeting policy.
· Make sure that all farmers and rural communities can get access to development grants once RDAs have been abolished.
· Work across Government to put in place policies that support those that live and work in the uplands, in particular rolling out super-fast broadband for remote rural communities and increasing the availability of affordable housing.
· Put a statutory duty on National Parks to do more to encourage social and economic development.
There is a large amount of common sense in this report that I expect to receive support from most quarters. Although it only relates directly, Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland should consider the findings of this report. I believe that the bulk of the recommendations would apply equally to all parts of the UK.