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Country News - 2002

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Countryside seminar at No 10
Tuesday 26 March

THE Prime Minister was today hosting a "working seminar" at 10, Downing Street, to discuss proposals made by Sir Donald Curry for the future of the British countryside and farming after his enquiry into last year's foot and mouth disaster.

But even before the meeting started, some observers were casting doubts on whether the Government (or rather the Treasury) will be prepared to stump up the estimated £500 million cost of one of Sir Donald's key recommendations: to switch 20% of farm subsidy payments to environmental conservation schemes rather than food production.

With the Government being lambasted from all sides for its running of the NHS, the collapse of the railway system and rising crime - plus huge extra costs of sending troops to Afghanistan - many critics feel that countryside issues have sunk low on the agenda.

The NFU is asking if the Prime Minister will make a "firm commitment" to spend the extra cash but DEFRA Secretary of State Margaret Beckett refused this morning to discuss her dealings on the matter with Chancellor Gordon Brown.

She said: "This meeting will be the first of many, some of them in the regions. We are talking about the long term future of the countryside, not the next three months or even three years, but 30 or even 50 years ahead."

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