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Beginning: the bonfire of the quangos

Friday 2 July 2010

Our countryside commentator John Sheard, sickened but not surprised by England’s football fiasco, believes that our countryside is on a winning steak, starting this week when the first matches were set to the bonfire of the quangos

IT IS very tempting this week to point out that very few of my countryside contacts were in any way affected by the wave of wailing hysteria that swept our towns and cities over the failings of 11 over-paid, under-performing mediocrities in the soccer world cup.

For a start, most of my friends are rugby union fans in the winter, many of them former players, and cricketers in the summer, some of them still playing well into their fifties. They are, of course, all amateurs, who play for fun and local pride but with a damn sight more passion on the pitch than shown by those millionaires in South Africa.

Bonfire of the quangos

They were “tired”, poor darlings, said their manager, exhausted no doubt by staying up late at night counting their England match fees which come on top of the £100,000 a week they get from their clubs. They got a lot of sympathy from a Dales hill farmer lucky to earn a tenth of that in a year!

I could also point out that English rugby players beat the Aussies (again) in Sydney a fortnight ago and that English cricketers have just won a five-game series against more Aussies here at home, news that barely got mentioned in the avalanche of insult poured over our soccer team – but this is a country column and there were many much more important items of rural news that were largely overlooked too.

This was the first flickering flame of the bonfire of the rural quangos set alight by the new Defra Secretary Caroline Spelman, the first ever holder of that post to have the slightest understanding of agriculture, and her first victim was New Labour’s last, and least, quango, the Commission for Rural Communities (CRC).

When Labour was in trouble in any particular policy area (as it was with farming from foot and mouth onwards) it set up a quango. When even they realised that things were going wrong in the countryside, which they had stripped to cash to pour into the inner cities, they set up the CRC.

Form the beginning, it was a New Labour poodle. It even came out in favour of massive new housing development in green belt areas, which every rural resident opposed apart from builders.

When Labour lost the election, it changed it tune dramatically coming out with a strongly worded statement that the former Government had no “joined up” policies on rural affairs, which every countryman and woman had known for a decade. But it was too late – Caroline Spelman scrapped it this week (see News). She also announced that Animal Health and the Veterinary Laboratories Agency would be merged as soon as possible.

This followed the news that the Coalition had also scrapped the new Infrastructure Planning Commission (IPC), one of Gordon Brown’s most sinister inventions, before it even had time to start duties. These would have allowed it to push through major planning decisions by over-riding local planners and ignoring local objections.

I could be carried away with enthusiasm and blinded to the fact that there are still mega problems ahead

Theoretically, “infrastructure” planning was supposed to be mega-projects like new motorways, railway lines and atomic power stations but that was believed by many to include new windfarms – anathema to most country folk – and even large-scale green field housing.

The scrapping of the IPC was received with delight by the Campaign to Protect Rural England which issued a statement saying: ““This announcement will be seen as a victory for local people who will no longer fear the threat of unelected bureaucrats forcing through unwanted development.

After a dreary 13 years of having to record cock-up after cock-up in the countryside, I am almost beside myself in disseminating such news. I could be carried away with enthusiasm and blinded to the fact that there are still mega problems ahead – like, for instance, Liberal Democrat opposition to nuclear power and an ongoing love of wind farms.

It will be interesting to discover if other country people feel as optimistic as I – and the Country Land and Business Association has launched a new campaign here in Yorkshire to establish just that.

The associations’ Yorkshire Director, Dorothy Fairburn, this week set up a straw poll which will allow visitors to the Great Yorkshire Show to tick a few boxes to see how happy they are with the new Government so far – and how much they fear coming cuts which are bound to affect the countryside as everyone suffers.

The CLA is a formidable lobbying body in Westminster and, says Dorothy Fairburn, information on how country folk feel those cuts can be made fairly and do the least damage would be useful ammunition to take to Whitehall. There are whole forests of dead wood bureaucracy that could be cut away with little outside harm. Let’s keep that axe swinging.

Feedback received on this subject:

Well said, John. If only there were more columnists like you with a rural perspective.

Simon Smith Skipton

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