Labour has launched its rural England policy review and outlined its plan to become “the party of the great British countryside” as data shows that government cuts will cost rural communities £255m this year.
Following the release of analysis by the party of figures from the Rural Payments Agency, Labour’s Luke Pollard described the approach from ministers to withdrawing the basic payments scheme for farmers as “extraordinary”.
“Farm payments need reform, but it is extraordinary to take a quarter of a billion pounds out of the rural economy this year alone, risking as many as 9,500 jobs and pushing family farms to the brink,” the Shadow Defra Secretary said.
“The government needs to get a grip on this, review it, and provide the security that our rural communities desperately need as they recover and rebuild.”
The government is phasing out the basic payment over the next few years as part of post-Brexit reforms to agriculture support. According to a freedom of information request from Labour, £3.5bn was paid to farmers in the financial year 2019/20.
As set out in the government’s agricultural transition plan, cuts in funding will vary. Farmers receiving less than £30,000 currently will see their subsidy reduced by 5% while those receiving over £150,000 will see a 25% cut, for example.
A Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs spokesperson told LabourList: “Our future farming policy will create cleaner, greener landscapes, helping build towards the government’s environmental goals and net-zero commitments.
“As we phase out direct payments over the seven-year agricultural transition period, we will offer financial assistance to help farmers prepare, and invest in ways to improve their productivity and manage the environment sustainably.”
But critics have highlighted that environmental land management payments, intended to replace the current scheme, will not come into place until after 2022/23, while cuts begin to take effect this year.
Labour said the reform of farm payments proposed by the government is leading the industry towards a “cliff edge”. The warning follows a recent survey in which 76% of farmers said that the new payments will not be enough.
The intervention today also comes as Labour opens a call for evidence as part of its rural England policy review, which Keir Starmer announced in a virtual speech to the National Farmers’ Union conference earlier this year.
“Labour’s rural England policy review will ensure that our next manifesto provides as much hope and opportunity to rural communities as it does to those living in towns and cities,” Pollard declared today.
Labour says the past decade of Conservative government has “weakened the foundations of rural communities”, with funding for transport and health services cut and community hubs such as village shops and post offices allowed to close.
The first phase of the review opens today for submissions from party members, the public, rural businesses and organisations. The party will also be running a programme of roundtable talks and village hall meetings across the country.
The review is focused on rural communities in England, but the party has said that it will seek to learn from best practice across the UK, including from the successes of the Welsh Labour government’s rural policies.
Welsh Labour launched its manifesto for the 2021 elections earlier this month. The party has pledged to create a new system of farm support in the devolved nation to “maximise the protective power of nature through farming”.
The plans include requiring food production in Wales to take place within environmental limits, with farmers only receiving public subsidy for producing food that delivers additional environmental policy outcomes.