Examination of Witnesses (Questions 80
WEDNESDAY 21 NOVEMBER 2001
80. The Cumbria situation and foot and mouth
and Lord Haskins' report. You seem to indicate from your statements,
and I do not disagree with you, that you think by next year recovery
will be starting to take place.
(Mr Cameron) I hope.
81. In some of the evidence you submitted to
the Haskins Inquiry you said there were now 1,500 jobs at risks.
Being a Cumbrian MP, I realised that every month since foot and
mouth broke out in the county unemployment has reduced throughout
the county and is now 1,500 less than when we first got foot and
mouth disease. Where did you get the 19,500 figure from at risk
and why has the problem which everybody was saying was going to
come out and devastate the rural economy not happened with jobs?
I realise there were people who were under employed, especially
in the tourist industry, but why have we had the hype about Cumbria
being in meltdown and yet unemployment has reduced by 1,500? Have
you any understanding of that?
(Mr Cameron) The 19,500 was in the Haskins' Report?
82. I think it was evidence from yourself?
(Mr Cameron) If it was evidence
83. I think you got it from an IVA document,
to be honest.
(Mr Wakeford) I am not sure I should speculate but
I will because one of the things that has happened in Cumbria
is, of course, the compensation payments that have been made to
farmers have brought some cash into the community. There has also
been a very thorough farm clean-up operation going on. In terms
of the tourism industry much of the peak in some of the hotels
is taken up by people who are coming in from other countries and
certainly other parts of the country to take on a summer job.
We do need a good understanding of that. Not only in Cumbria but
in other parts of the countryside, the rural economy took a real
dip in the spring. We know that because of the lack of visitors,
especially visitors from overseas who are high-spending visitors.
That dip has gone through the economy. In the summer there was
a significant increase and people started to visit the countryside
again which was very welcome. The footpaths were open, people
felt that was something they could do. We have also benefited
from the Indian summer which has delivered a pretty good autumn
for the tourist industry, at least if data from the South West
are borne out. When we come to the winter, some of those things
are not going to produce any income but those rural businesses
who have loans and who have been paying loans from income during
the summer will once again face the time when their loans are
greater than their income. It is at that point that we believe
the risks to rural businesses and rural jobs will be high again.
That is why my Chairman said earlier how important it was not
to let up but to aim to relaunch the countryside as an attractive
place attracting visitors again early next year.
84. Do you also believe that some of the government
assistance that has gone into the businesses has had the effect
it was supposed to of reducing the major impact?
(Mr Cameron) From what you say it sounds as though
85. In rural proofing obviously one of your
main aims must be to improve services and diminish social exclusion
and to actually tackle the really big problem of rural poverty,
in which case surely the most important section of your rural
proofing has to be what happens with the indicators because the
indicators and how they are interpreted are crucial. You were
talking, Pam, about there are three million people living in the
countryside in poverty but, as we all know, they do not live in
nice little clumps of wards, they are dispersed and so they are
cheek by jowl with very wealthy second homeowners in Chipping
Campden and we cannot identify them. So I would argue that the
work on indicators is the most crucial thing because then it alerts
the government to where the deprivation is which draws down money
into local authorities which means we do not have to worry about
Richard and his charitable trust because the real money going
into service delivery is coming from where it should come fromlocal
and central government. In rural proofing you must have priorities
about what you are going to march through the door about. You
talked about talking to the Lord Chancellor about what happens
to local magistrates' courts but do you have this as your number
one element of rural proofing? If it is not, why not? If it is,
what have you succeeded so far in doing and how can we measure
this in the timescale to see that we do have a better revenue
support grant and or a better local government finance settlement
for rural areas?
(Mr Wakeford) Can I draw to your attentionI
would like to send it to you afterwards because this is a very
complicated issuein June we issued a draft document on
indicators of rural disadvantage which was trying to identify
and help all of those who are designing programmes to take account
of rural disadvantage by showing how you can measure rural disadvantage.
There was a national consultation and a series of regional reports.
It is quite a lot but it is quite important that it is quite a
lot and I can give you an example of how some of this is already
being used. The New Opportunities Fund at the moment is working
out how to target some of its funds on the 50 most disadvantaged
parts of the country and they are ensuring they are rural proofing
their approach by drawing on the data that we have illustrated
in these reports about indicators of rural disadvantage.
86. But is it your number one priority for rural
(Mr Cameron) The indicators cover a range of different
elements of rural disadvantage. Given that we explained in a sense
the rationale for the Agency, which is to ensure that people are
not disadvantaged as a result of being in rural areas, then I
think that the answer to your question has to be yes. Rural disadvantage
is the main thing that one is tackling in terms of the social
aspects of people who live there, alongside the environmental
issues which themselves can turn into rural disadvantage.
Chairman: We need to move on.
87. The fact is I shall want to continue the
theme because I also want to talk about comparisons between rural
and urban dwellers. This morning we have heard a range of views
from yourselves and also from members of the Committee taking
each side of the argument, namely everybody is concerned with
the same problems whether they live in urban or rural areas, there
is not much difference if you are deprived if you are in a big
urban estate or if you are in a rural area. What is your view?
Is your view that there is rural disadvantage?
(Ms Warhurst) Yes.
(Mr Cameron) Yes.
88. Right, in that case, following on from what
Diana Organ just said, what are you doing about the switch of
funds through council grants away from rural areas? How are you
analysing the effect of that and what are you doing? Are you marching
through the Chancellor's door as he prepares his statement on
public spending in two weeks' time?
(Mr Cameron) No is the answer but we are doing a huge
number of different projects, highlighting, for the benefit of
the local authorities you speak of, the problems of rural poverty
and rural social exclusion.
89. The fact is, if shire counties, which are
are overwhelmingly rural, are unable to afford enough social workers
because of the way council grants are currently structured, surely
that ought to be at at the forefront of your representation? Similarly,
are you familiar with the report that has been produced by rural
police authorities on the fact that they are less well-funded
in terms of coping with rural sparsity than their urban counterparts,
and what are you doing about that? These things seem to be so
specific. You do not need all these indicators if you do not start
by tackling what is an obvious imbalance in the first place. It
is there to be seen. It is in what used to be the Red Book. There
it is, that is where you should start I would have thought. If
not, why not?
(Ms Warhurst) Can I bring you back to the Countryside
Agency's role in all these things. In the first place there has
been a lack of detailed information on what circumstances arise
in rural areas. We saw that in terms of the anecdotal information
we have. Therefore it is of primary importance, as you have said,
that we get down to the fact that we as an agency (only in its
third year of tackling those deficits) must understand what indicators
can be used to show, where there is disadvantage, where things
are improving, how we are monitoring it in the annual State of
the Countryside report, and so on. We are using that to influence
Government's thinking. That happens over a period of time. Certainly
we have drawn attention to the fact that we do know that in terms
of assistance that urban areas get £6 for every £1 spent
on rural assistance. These are things that we are very well aware
of and do incorporate into our discussions with ministries when
we are talking about policy issues. Obviously we have key partnerships
that we use but we are an agency that cannot deliver every single
thing through every single mainstream department, that is not
our function. What we are doing is working up strategic partnerships
that can take forward those issues with the various departments.
For example, we are working with the Department of Health and
have created a Rural Health Forum to draw upon those very issues
you allude to in terms of the problems that arise in terms of
being ill in rural areas and perhaps not having the infrastructure
there to deal with it. 76 per cent of parishes do not have GPs
and so on. We are working to inform and to empower and give examples
to those people that would seek solutions to this knotty problem
that has not been resolved to date in order that they themselves
can take that forward. We are also looking at crime concerns to
see how we can deal with the fear of crime in rural areas as well
as the very real problems about having police people on the beat
throughout rural areas. Again as an agency we are there to research,
to raise the profile of the difficulties, to inform that debate,
and then at the other end of the scale, to work in partnership
with people on the ground to say these are difficult issues that
we have to find alternative solutions to if we are going to do
something real about the quality of people's lives as opposed
to forever producing reports that are put on shelves year after
year. Those are very real issues that you draw to our attention.
The function of our agency, which is not a huge agency, is to
work in the way we have tried to explain to rural proof through
an informed debate and then through giving some very real examples
about how you can make a difference in rural people's lives.
90. I accept all that but we have already discussed
and debated the role of Mr Cameron as the rural advocate. Given
the figures that you have quoted about the inbalance of government
funding of urban vis-a"-vis rural people, you do not
need to work up anything else, any kinds of partnership strategies
with anyone else, that is a fact. You have just given the figure
yourself. Surely you should be starting with that? Cannot we be
hearing it from you, from the rural advocate?
(Mr Cameron) Point taken.
Mrs Shephard: Thank you.
91. Can I just pick up on this. You mentioned
crime and the fear of crime. One of the things we are seeing is
the roll out of CCTV cameras in urban areas and the fear in the
rural areas is that that will displace crime. When you do your
rural proofing, do you specifically look at knock-on effects of
things happening in the urban areas that will inevitably affect
perceptions, if not the reality, in the rural areas?
(Mr Cameron) The Home Office is one area that I have
not actually visited yet. That is an interesting point to make
about CCTV cameras and their effect on displacing crime. Crime
figures in the countryside have risen but they are still very
much below urban crime. There is certainly a perceived problem.
92. There is some evidence in my constituency,
I will mention no names, where drug dealing appears to have shifted
and the suggestion is that it is because there are no cameras
in the rural areas.
(Mr Cameron) Thank you for that information.
93. You say on page 17 that your second principle
is that the rural community should have reasonable access to local
services and facilities. What is "reasonable" and what
is "local". How do you define them?
(Ms Warhurst) I think we are going to have to defer
to you, Richard, because we do have a team working on that very
point of what would be a reasonable service standard in set categories
of settlement. We are not there yet but we are hoping to publish
it next year. Richard?
(Mr Wakeford) I think the major success for the Countryside
Agency in the Rural White Paper was to get the whole principle
of service standards established as a part of Government policy.
You are right to ask the question that you have. We asked the
same question to the Government and they said "We do not
know, we have not thought about it." Therefore we were able
to say, "You should be thinking about it." I think one
of the most innovative bits in this Rural White Paper is the table
in chapter 2 of the White Paper which starts to set out service
standards. What we succeeded in doing was getting the Government
to put a partial table in here. When we saw the drafts of it we
did not want to rock the boat too much by saying there were certain
aspects of rural services that were missing nor did we want to
say to them, "You are putting something in here that is quite
difficult to test because you have not said what the reasonable
standards and requirements are." So we regard the table as
a starting point and we are taking that forward service by service
with the Government to try to establish what the reasonable entitlement
is. Clearly those who move to the countryside or those who are
in the countryside will have a different level of service entitlement
and standard than those who live in cities. There are certain
services that you cannot provide everywhere, but it is important
to try and work out what they are. The reason for doing that is
unless there is a clear statement of what the policy goal is then
in a sense the Government is never going to be able to say that
services have reached a reasonable standard.
94. So many miles to a bank and so many to a
hospital and so many to a vet, whatever?
(Mr Wakeford) What we were trying to do with the rural
services report is to identify distances in the data that would
be helpful. So in terms of the two kilometre distance for a post
office, for example, and the figures are in there for what proportion
of people live within that distance of a post office, we thought
that was reasonable for the majority of people, a set percentage
of people to be the goal for people within walking distance of
a post office. Unless you set that standard then you are never
going to be able to take the decision about what a reasonable
network for rural post offices will be. For rural primary schools
it may be that younger people could walk 4 km or 2 miles to a
primary school. You have to make some judgments. By starting to
measure the current position we are informing the process whereby
the table in chapter 2 of the White Paper can be taken forward
and firmed up. There is an element that needs to be added to it
and the requirements and standards need to be firmed. Until we
do that we will not be able to measure whether progress has been
made towards reasonable standards.
95. You define what are key public services.
(Mr Wakeford) Again, there is a set of services set
out in this table in the Rural White Paper which is a pretty good
start but although, for example, it covers the Post Office it
does not cover the telephone.
96. I am not overwhelmingly sympathetic to the
countryside, frankly. I am one of a dying breed of urban Labour
MPs and the countryside, as far as I am concerned, is something
you drive through to get to Meadowhall, but you are taking on
an impossible task here because you are trying to reverse the
dominant trends at the end of the last century and this century
which is a trend to centralisation, a trend to bigger concentrations
of shopping in out-of-town shopping malls, it is a trend in government
to bigger hospitals covering a wider area and concentration in
schools. This is just a superhuman task. You are taking on the
labours of Sisyphus.
(Mr Wakeford) You are right, that is the trend, and
what we are trying to do is to see if we can harness the trend
in such a way that it does not leave people disadvantaged in its
wake. Meadowhall is no doubt fine as a regional shopping centreI
see it from the train when I go by rather than through driving
there myself. But the more that one concentrates and centralises
like that, the more difficult it is for those who do not have
such easy access to drive to such places to acquire the same services.
That centralisation is a disadvantaging people and the reason
it is happening is because those who organise servicesaway
from shopping back to magistrates' courtsthe people organising
magistrates' courts do not have to take account of the impact
of their decision on people's travel. If people who were organising
magistrates' courts had to transport and pay for the transport
of people to magistrates' courts we would have a much more localised
service. The same is true of a whole range of services.
Mr Mitchell: That is an area where you have
not been able to achieve all that much, frankly, and in the main
you are taking on brutal economic forces that are not amenable
Chairman: Do not talk about the Chancellor like
97. What you are doing is bleeding hearts stuff,
"Let's set up an agency to do the research to show the scale
of the problem", and then it wrings its hands.
(Ms Warhurst) Can I come in very briefly as someone
who came from an urban background, although it was a mixed urban
and rural local authority that I worked within, but I had a real
eye opener when coming to the Agency in understanding the inter-relationship
between the landscape and the countryside and the people that
live in the large towns and cities. Can I say that from my perspective
having come from redbrick when I was small to living in the Pennines
now, thank God that we have got a countryside that is still vibrant
and has communities in it that people think are worth living in,
and thank God we have got a countryside where I can go out and
walk with the dog and enjoy the benefits ultimately in 2005 of
the Countryside and Rights of Way Act, which will include having
pubs that I can drink in and post offices where I can buy things
and tea shops where I can enjoy myself and so on and so forth.
We are not saying we demand for every single human being who lives
in every single small hamlet everything you have got in the centre
of Leeds. God forbid, that is ridiculous. But I am saying that
we do not want a sterile landscape in the countryside. What we
do want is to understand the interplay between those who live
in the countryside and work in the towns or who work in the towns
and visit the countryside, and so on. It is an incredibly complex
relationship that we at the Countryside Agency are trying to drive
up the agenda in understanding the link between deep countryside
and countryside around towns and what that means to most people
who have not got any chance whatsoever of walking in the Pennines.
It is complex, Mr Mitchell, and all I am saying is it is not to
be ignored and we have to find some solutions.
98. It is nice to have a public body to do it,
and it is nice to get that kind of sermon from you, but at the
same time the real problems of the countryside, the real problems
of rurality are those of poverty. In the days when I used to work
for a living I used to fly on the Yorkshire Television helicopter
above Lincolnshire and look down on the swimming pools behind
the big farm houses and all the Jaguars and BMWs parked there
and that did dissipate my sympathy. The real problems attend those
who do not have the BMWs, who do not have a car. In that sense
the problems of poverty are no different to the problems in Mixenden.
Half the people in Mixenden, which you know, are in a worse situation
when it comes to services and tea shops and all the other romantic
stuff you have described than the people in Wetway who at least
have got Richard Whiteley for a mayor!
(Ms Warhurst) I go back to the one thing I said, there
is not a competition in terms of poverty and disadvantage. I absolutely
accept that we need to resolve the issues for the Mixendens of
this world but, equally so, there are specific problems related
to those who are disadvantaged in rural areas because they do
not live cheek by jowel with others that can be zoned or whatever
else the Government thinks is seasonal. What I am saying is there
is a real need to identify those 3 million people and to find
ways that historically have not been found because there has not
been a critical mass to pour the resources into the public sector,
private sector, whatever else it might be. It is difficult but
not to be ignored and what we are saying is, yes, there is a knee-jerk
reaction to saying the countryside is much better and what we
need to do is to focus on our large urban centres. There is not
a competition there and we need to find ways of doing both with
the public purse. That is all we are arguing for.
99. That is true. Insofar as it is largely a
problem of poverty and the rich people have moved there voluntarily
to get the joy of the country life, it would be simpler to use
public money to provide the poorer people with cars than spend
it on do-gooder schemes all over the place.
(Ms Warhurst) It is an interesting point you make
in terms of when you roll out the discussion about how can we
make urban and rural living work better. You might take a view
on better public transport for those people who wish to travel
from rural areas to city centres and thereby let those people
who are at home have the car, but it is a complex issue when we
are three years into a situation as an agency that has brought
together two previous ones and one where I think we are making
some progress in raising the profile of the debate.