Wednesday, 19 September 2007 13:01

Watchdog to probe summer of misery

Written by  Ruralcity Media
ImageGordon Brown has ordered an inquiry into ways the rural economy can be strengthened following a summer marred by flooding and foot-and-mouth.

The Prime Minister has told the Commission for Rural Communities – which acts as the government’s rural watchdog – to report its recommendations in time for the new session of Parliament which begins on 8 October.

Commission chairman Stuart Burgess, who has visited flood-hit communities in Yorkshire and Worcestershire, said their impact extended far beyond the physical damage to homes and property.

“It is clear that the effect of the floods – on individuals, farmers, rural businesses, the local economy, voluntary and community groups – will be felt for many months, even years ahead.”

The government’s commitment to provide financial support and assistance to aid the recovery of areas affected by the flooding needed to take full account of the long-term impact on rural communities.

Rural businesses and communities faced severe financial hardship, both through loss of income as tourists were turned away and additional costs involved in repairing property.

The commission’s report will build on its submission to the House of Commons Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, which is conducting its own inquiry into the floods.

In considering the impact of the foot-and-mouth outbreak in south-east England, the commission will take soundings from regional development agencies and rural affairs forum members, including rural business and community leaders.

Oona Muirhead, of the South East England Development Agency (SEEDA), said her organisation was still assessing the implications of the outbreak which led to a ban on livestock movements and meat exports.

“Support is likely to take the form of marketing campaigns aimed at building up the profile of rural businesses and raising awareness of local markets and the high quality food the sector has to offer the consumer.”

Although the foot-and-mouth outbreak has so far been confined to south-east England, its affects have been felt across the country – not least in parts of south-west England which were badly hit by the summer floods.

Nick Buckland, deputy chairman of the South West of England Regional Development Agency, said the ban on livestock movements and cancellation of country and agricultural shows had had a devastating affect.

He added: “This affects the region as a whole but comes as a double blow to business in Gloucestershire who have also had to contend with the recent flooding.”

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