Retain rural watchdog, say Lib Dems

THE Liberal Democrats have urged the government to abandon plans to abolish the Commission for Rural Communities.

Lib Dem rural spokesman Andrew George MP said the government should instead beef up its plans for rural policy by retaining the agency.

Mr George, who represents the West Cornwall constituency of St Ives and the Isles of Scilly, was responding to a government consultation.

Defra has been consulting on its plans for the future of the Commission for Rural Communities – the independent rural watchdog.

Mr George said the Commission for Rural Communities was an 'independent voice' for the countryside and should be retained.

"A rural commission should exist to provide independent and objective advice on trends which are emerging in respect of the life and prospects of our rural communities and also represent and advocate on behalf of the weakest of the voices which exist in our rural communities."

Without an independent voice the inexorable trend of turning our rural communities into the exclusive preserve of the better off would continue.

Mr George said he supported the government's review of agencies, quangos and commissions to reduce their number and simplify arrangements.

"This should of course apply to the many of quangos and agencies under which Defra take ultimate responsibility," he said

But the possible consequences of abolishing both the role of the Rural Advocate and that of the Commission for Rural Communities would be severe.

"I have come to the conclusion that there is a strong justification for the retention of an independent rural voice," said Mr George.

Although some people saw MPs as rural advocates, not all politicians were in a position to speak up for countryside minorities.

The rural voice was sometimes weak in contrast to the more powerful voices impressing themselves upon MPs undertaking constituency work

It was also important for a rural advocate to demonstrate that they were politically neutral and not influenced by any party political bias.

"There is a clear and demonstrable need to maintain an independent, political neutral rural voice which can speak up for rural communities and, in particular, the most disadvantaged in rural society."


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