Clause 17 - Commission for Rural Communities

Part of Natural Environment and Rural Communities Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 9:30 am on 23rd June 2005.

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Photo of Colin Breed Colin Breed Shadow Minister, Environment, Food & Rural Affairs 9:30 am, 23rd June 2005

I am delighted to know that. I hope that the setting-up costs, such as the stationery and so on, will not be too great because it would be a shame, having forged ahead, to find that the body will not come into being.

I do not want to trivialise this serious point. There is a genuine feeling in rural areas that the Government have tried to tackle some of their concerns, but setting up unelected quangos, which is their continual answer to the strong voices in rural communities, is not the way forward. The way forward is to recognise that local authorities have a central role in the provision of services to rural areas. They have to be engaged in these matters anyway, principally through planning; they have economic development units and access to a significant amount of advice and information; they are already involved in public transport through subsidy and planning routes; and they are involved, working with primary care trusts, in the provision of health services.

Local authorities have one real additional benefit: they are elected. There is a democratic deficit in the regional development agencies, the Government office for the south-west, the Countryside Agency and the CRC, which is why local people do not feel that the Government are responding properly to their wishes. They want their elected representatives to work with the Government to deliver what they need and want, which will vary between areas—it will not be “one size fits all”. Cornwall’s requirements will be different from those of East Anglia or Derbyshire. Local authorities, with their local knowledge and expertise, should be the real rural advocates. Only if they work with the Department will local communities get cost-effective and efficient services. The CRC will go the same way as the Countryside Agency, which Lord Haskins has already said should be abolished.

Central Government should operate in concert with local government: two democratically elected bodies working for the benefit of the people who elected them. That is what we should return to.