Saturday, 5 June 2010

IT'S ALL GONE QUIET OVER THERE?

During the last Westminster campaign - prior to polling day - especially in a rural constituency, every candidate who was out chasing votes tried to appear to be the farmer's best mate. The same was probably true across rural constituencies the length and breadth of Wales and the rest of the UK - yet, our farming communities, despite this welcome warmth have been pretty isolated and marginalized by the politicians, the contempt with which the farmers used to be treated by the old New Labour Government (and previous Conservative governments) in Westminster - this was something that was mirrored until relatively recently in Cardiff Bay certainly until the arrival of Plaid in government and Elin Jones, the Plaid driven One Wales Government Rural Affairs Minister.

Now that the dust has settled and the deals have been done, we have a Conservative / Liberal Government and the question should be what are they going to do for the farming sector? The Conservatives have spent years appearing (with less and less effort on their part admittedly) to be the party of the farmers, certainly some farmers continue to believe it. Yet, it is worth remembering that not that long ago in the 1980's it was a Tory Secretary of State who literally sat by and quietly did nothing when many of our Dairy farmers got hammered into the ground by cuts in the milk quota.

Never again must any Welsh Minister fail to stand up and be counted and to fail to argue their corner on behalf of Welsh farmers - now at least that has changed for the better - with Elin Jones (AM), the Plaid One Wales Government Minister for Rural Affairs we have a minster who is not afraid to actually meet with and to stand up for our farmers and their interests - this is a refreshing change from what has gone before. During the NFU farmers hustings in the final weeks of the election campaign, when I mentioned the things that Elin Jones and the One Wales Government have (and are) doing to make things easier for our farmers, the comments, the nods and the smiles confirmed that the farmers are more than aware of what's being done on their behalf.

Any catastrophic economic failure across the farming sector will have a significant knock on effects for dependent small businesses and local suppliers across the whole rural economy, in the small towns and across the Welsh countryside itself. The Plaid driven one Wales Government has unlike relatively recent governments in Westminster and Cardiff Bay, stopped treating the agricultural sector with indifference. Most people agree that much more effort has to be made to market first class Welsh produce within Wales, within the UK and in Europe and beyond.

Now, our farmers, despite some mutterings to the contrary by some local Labour MPs who should know better, are not just in the businesses of merely waiting for that one annual brown envelope and cheque from Brussels but for a real opportunity to make a decent living within the agricultural sector - to do this they need a fair deal. We need to take practical steps to give Welsh farmers a fighting chance of making a real living; securing 80% of publicly procured food locally by 2015 is a realistic and practical aim.

This is something that could provide the first practical step towards helping Welsh farmers and other producers make the most of the new opportunities that will arise from higher public purchasing of local products. Yet we need more, a much more co-ordinated effort to create that elusive level playing field for our farmers and a real effort from National and Local government to secure 80% of publicly procured food locally by 2015 – this could provide the first practical step towards helping Welsh farmers and other producers make the most of the new opportunities that will arise from higher public purchasing of local products.

The question remains, as yet, unanswered though, what is the new Conservative / Liberal Government actually going to do for our farmers?

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