Examination of Witnesses (Questions 100
WEDNESDAY 21 NOVEMBER 2001
100. How much money do you have to throw at
the economy of the countryside, for example through the Vital
Villages programmes. What is the maximum value of the grant and
how do they get it?
(Ms Warhurst) There are four different grants on this
one. The key point is, and I do understand many people have made
the point about needing indicators, the Vital Villages programme
and the health check we do in market towns are not about us telling
towns and villages but about villages themselves with varying
degrees of disadvantage or ability coming together and finding
their common cause. There are parish planning grants which are
£5,000 to pull together an action plan that needs to go to
the parishes. There are community service grants where you can
have between £500 up to £15,000. That is about do we
need to do something about childcare, do we need to do something
about the village shop, what do we need to do, hopefully as part
of the parish action plan but not necessarily so, not constrained
by that. There are parish transport grants that are saying to
local communities come up with imaginative ways such as tax rebate
schemes and scooter schemes for young kids to get to work, not
just schemes for better use of the downtime on community transport.
There are all sorts of initiatives and then of course there are
the bigger ones up to quarter of million for the rural transport
partnership, the Penistone-type of thing where again it is about
making sure that people in urban centres can get to the countryside
but, more importantly, people in the countryside can get to a
decent quality of life, a social life and employment where they
have not been able to do so before. It is a mixed bag of grants
from the very small to the quite large but also working with rural
community councils and ourselves to support a community to empowerI
hate to use that wordto make them think "Hey, we can
do something for ourselves."
101. What do you do about the inequity of the
empowerment within rural communities? In my area and that of most
of the other people around this table, there are villages where
there are lots of architects, people withI do not know
about Jaguarscertainly BMWs, swimming pools occasionally,
and other villages which are former mining villages which do not
have those sorts of people available to them to help them put
in bids for your schemes. The same problem affects Lottery funding,
that the communities which have the professional resources available
to them can put in incredibly impressive bids, and the other groups
do not have the resources and self-confidence sometimes to do
it. What do you do about that?
(Mr Wakeford) What we do is actually to help fund
rural community councils. There are 38 of them across England.
They provide the assistance to help individual communities get
themselves into a position where they can do that. It is a significant
programme right the way across England. There is evidence which
shows that it does not actually matter a great deal what the funds
are, what they are to be used for, what the rules are, whether
it is a Lottery grant, or a Vital Villages grant, or a Millennium
Green or a Doorstep Green which is our current programme. These
are modest grants. The availability of the grant, people seeing
that there is something there to go for, will actually create
a sense of strength in the local community, whether the people
have got BMWs, or Jaguars or not. I have been to so many villages
that have succeeded in putting Millennium Greens in place, have
succeeded in getting their village shop back and so on. I have
seen plenty of evidence of where that is possible without owning
a BMW or a Jaguar.
102. It is possible, yes, and it is possible
in my area as well, but the difficulty is that it relies on unique
individuals very often and communities to lead that process and
those are not evenly spread, are they?
(Mr Cameron) No.
103. The qualifications that are necessary for
quality bids are not evenly spread either, are they?
(Mr Wakeford) The Agency is launching next year, working
with the National Association of Local Councils, a significant
training programme for parish councils. I said earlier that parish
councils are very different, we must not regard them all as the
same bodies. Some cover populations of only 50 and some cover
quite large populations. There is a very strong thrust at the
moment in government policyand in the work of the Countryside
Agency we believe we have been instrumental in achieving thatof
building community strength at the local level. There are a number
of our initiatives, whether they be the individual small grants
or the Quality Parishes programme that we have worked on with
the Government, or the training programme for parish councillors,
or the funding that we are doing through the rural community councils
to have people out there on the ground talking to communities,
helping them to work out what is needed in their community and
how they can get the resources to do it. There is a significant
programme under way there. It may be that it is not enough, because
in our world it is always easy to say, "We need more",
but I think there is a significant programme there that we can
be proud of at the moment.
104. There is a real danger, though, that you
and others will fund the middle-class villages for things they
like and miss most of the others, is there not?
(Mr Cameron) We recognise that. We are very conscious
of capacity building to apply for grants. There is a serious problem.
I mentioned the Business Recovery Fund. It is exactly the same.
It is across the board.
(Mr Wakeford) If I can come back to the ward database
that we have of disadvantagefrom the summer we now have
that information availablewe are going to be using that
in the future tranches of the Vital Villages programme to go out
and target communities who we think are missing out. So now we
have the data we can actually start to focus in a way that perhaps
was not so possible in the past. I think you probably have a point.
If I look back to see who had done village design statements under
the Countryside Commission's gold scheme, I suspect that what
you said about those communities would be right.
Chairman: We have quite a lot of questions coming
up and we have 40 minutes to go. Quite a lot of the questions
coming up we will have covered, so perhaps colleagues could clean
up the ones we have covered already.
105. The Department of Transport brought out
a ten-year plan for England and Wales. What input did the Commission
have into that ten-year plan?
(Mr Wakeford) It was a document that was a long time
in the gestation. We in the Countryside Commission and in the
Rural Development Commission were involved at the start of that
process. We had, and maintain, a good series of contacts with
the Department and with the Highways Agency over the period of
the preparation of that.
106. So are you happy with the plan? Did what
you want appear in the plan?
(Mr Wakeford) We are happy with some aspects of it.
We are concerned about the implications of some aspects of it.
We are happy with the emphasis on investing in public transport.
We are happy with the emphasis on the local transport plans, for
example. We are certainly happy with the way in which significant
investments will be made to make cities work well and serve the
hinterlands. Some of the aspects of the roads construction programme
that may flow through it in some parts may throw up dilemmas for
us. For a long time the Agencythe Countryside Commission
before ithas been concerned about some proposals to widen
the A303 in Somerset through the heart of the Blackdown Hills
Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The plan is a bold concept.
When I was talking earlier about what we need for the land use
planning system, in a sense the concept of where are we going
to be in ten years' time and how are we going to get there is
something we welcome. As to the elements of it, the majority I
suspect have pluses against them, but there are some that do not.
107. Perhaps we can now turn to public transport.
The Government put quite a lot of extra money into basically rural
bus services. This is just an observation, but when I go round
the rural part of my constituency I see more buses, but I am not
sure I see more people on those buses. Is there any evidence that
actually more people are using the buses? How do we get people
to leave their cars at home, because of the extra money? It seemed
a good idea at the time, to put the money in, but people are still
using their cars and not using the buses, and we would be better
off spending our money somewhere else.
(Mr Wakeford) You have to think about the overall
pictures and trends and the assumption that you are not going
to be able to get around by public transport in the countryside,
which many people take as their starting point. The evidence that
we have is that when a new bus service is put on, it takes between
18 months and two years before people start to know that it is
there. There is quite a long take-up period. So the evidence in
our rural services survey certainly seems to suggest that public
transport and community transport is now reaching parts of England
that were not reached before, but what we do not have is evidence
yet of the extent to which this is changing people's habits. In
individual schemes the Government's funding for rural buses, the
big chunk of it, goes, as you say, to rural bus grants, to county
councils, and they are buying services that cannot be viable for
the private sector operators. There is another, much smaller slice
of money that comes through the rural transport partnerships that
Pam Warhurst, the Deputy Chairman, was talking about earlier,
where we are helping communities to identify what public transport
needs they have and how they can be served. This has proved for
the Agency to be a frustrating process, because the Government
put money up for this, the scheme was launched and they rather
assumed that there would be a very quick take-off of people coming
in and saying, "Yes, we want this and this and this."
In practice, it has taken much longer to identify how to put together
the partnership of organisations that will identify what the public
transport needs are and how they can best be served. What we are
aiming to do is to encourage some quite innovative projects showing
what works and what does not work. We are trying to get into car-sharing
schemes, as well as into buses like the bus at Kirkby Stephen,
the plus bus. This is a very exciting project where a specially
designed bus is actually serving a market town, serving the needs
of the less mobile who live around there in some remoteness, but
also serving the railway station on the Settle to Carlisle line,
which is bringing in visitors who will walk in the stunning scenery
in that part of the world. So it is really serving lots of people.
The comment I took away as being really so rewarding was from
the person who said that they really valued the bus, because it
meant that they could do their shopping on their own in the Co-Op
in Kirkby Stephen, rather than having to go with their daughter
into Kendal to Tesco's. That meant that they could actually buy
their gin without their daughter knowing!
108. I would like to ask some fairly blunt questions,
and probably Ewen is the obvious person to pick these up. In terms
of management, how do you make farmers part of the solution to
rural problems, rather than a set of problems in their own right?
(Mr Cameron) The answer is, change the system. For
too long the system has been targeted at farmers trying to compete
in the global market place, and I believe that there are a whole
lot of different arrows that you can add to their quiver, such
as obviously things like organic farming, locally-produced produce,
environmental services, flood-relief schemes maybe more downstream
and so on, as well as diversification. At the moment the Common
Agricultural Policy targets the production of commodities such
as milk and wheat and what are recognised as normal farm products.
I believe that the taxpayers get very little bangs for their bucks,
as it were, under that system. I think that what we need is a
change in the system, whereby the taxpayer, who is probably the
largest inputter of funds into the agricultural industry, needs
to say, "perhaps we want something in return"in
other words, instead of having a subsidy system you have a contract
system. This could be done on a localised basis. I also believe
that if you actually get farmers switched on to providing for
the local market place, as we are trying to promote in our Eat
The View plan, they also will understand that their profitability
depends as much upon the brand image of the countryside that they
are living in as it does upon necessarily the price of the product.
109. I am going to mention some examples of
the Forest of Dean. Clearly you are looking for good practice
and to embed that into the change we want to see. How much is
there going to be conflict between what could be termed pure environmental
uses of the landscape as against farming it in perhaps different
ways, but still farming it?
(Mr Cameron) There could be conflicts, certainly,
if the taxpayers think that they are providing money for one particular
service and they are getting another. But I do not see it as necessarily
being a matter of conflict. Taking my quiver full of arrows that
I mentioned, global competitive farming remains a very strong,
possibly a first, arrow within that quiver. Anyone who grows wheat,
for instance, is growing a product that is a world commodity with
different world prices, so they are automatically in the world
market place. I also believe that you will get farmers who are
doing a whole variety of things in terms of the services offered,
some of which will be tourist and leisure orientated, some of
which will be environmentally orientated and so on. So I see them
as beingor they ought to becomplementary.
(Mr Wakeford) The key is to re-target the subsidy,
surely, so that the taxpayer who is putting about £3 billion
indirectly into farming actually gets £3 billion worth of
value in things that the taxpayer says that they want out of farming.
Having done that, you could secure through that a contract with
farmers in which farmers can actually make a profit out of providing
that service that the public wants, and then on top of that they
would be free to use the land to produce things in an unsubsidised
way, in a way that would then compete in local and world markets.
(Mr Cameron) The profit element is something that
does not exist at the moment. There is no point in paying a farmer
80 per cent for rebuilding a stone wall in the Dales of Yorkshire
which he does not want, it has got to be 150 per cent. At the
moment it is done on a profits forgone basis, which is not as
it should be.
110. Can I just look at that £3 billion?
Is that for England or the whole of British agriculture? The £3
billion is so often mentioned. I think the words were used "direct
(Mr Cameron) The £3 billion is actually slightly
less now because of the value of the pound to the euro.
111. Is that England or Britain?
(Mr Cameron) No, that is Britain. There is also more
than that comes from the taxpayer, particularly this year with
foot and mouth.
112. Yes, but there is a special reason for
that. The figure of £3 billion is British taxpayers subsidising
producers, is that right?
(Mr Cameron) Correct.
113. Is there more money coming in from the
EU, or is that under the EU scheme, the CAP?
(Mr Cameron) That is the EU scheme. We are net contributors
to the EU, so we are paying in.
(Mr Wakeford) I may have misled the Committee in a
sense by using a kind of journalistic shortcut. There is about
£3 billion coming through the Common Agricultural Policy
to farmers in the UK. I was making the point that in a sense it
is our taxpayers who are paying for it, even though it is coming
from the EU.
114. I understand that point. You are arguing
very strongly, and there are others also who are arguing, that
there should be a switch from producer subsidy to putting money
into looking after the countryside, rural development and environmental
biodiversity goals. In fact, in your submission to the Policy
Commission on Farming and Food, you are suggesting that the CAP
be abolished and that it be replaced by a 100 per cent switch
of all the CAP monies to those sustainable outcomes.
(Mr Cameron) Yes. To an integrated rural policy part
of which would continue to include payment for agricultural production.
The sort of balance we see is possibly a one-third/one-third/one-third
in terms of one-third continues to go into agricultural productiontake
the uplands, for instance, where farming subsidy is a very good
way of maintaining the communities and the appearance of the uplands
and it is very beneficialone-third into environmental payments,
and one-third into rural development investment pump-priming.
115. So a more sustainable use of the CAP subsidy?
(Mr Cameron) Yes.
116. You are arguing that all that money should
be switched to those different and better purposes, but are you
aware that the Government thinks that the switch would lead to
public expenditure savings?
(Mr Cameron) That argument obviously has yet to take
place. I would suspect that we are some way away from CAP reform
or scrapping. The argument that certainly I am using outside to
farmers is that, unless you believe that you are delivering something
that society wants, then I believe there is a good chance that
you will lose a proportion of that money. You have got to bear
in mind that the CAP reform is going to be forced upon us by WTO
talks and particularly by the incoming Eastern European countries.
Poland, I believe, has more farmers than the whole of Europe put
together at the moment. There are going to be changes and there
are going to have to be different ways of supporting the countryside
or rural land management. I am trying to persuade the Government,
farmers and others about actually a more responsible way of trying
to achieve continued funding, and that it will undoubtedly disappear
unless we (I say "we", as I am a farmer) go along with
the inevitable change in policy that I foresee coming over the
117. Yet I think there is no doubtand
do you agreethat the Treasury view this change as an opportunity
for expenditure savings?
(Mr Cameron) I suspect the Treasury are always looking
for savings in every aspect, yes, I am sure they are.
118. If you do not believe that, then you need
to be very clear in demonstrating how that quantum can be better
applied, do you not?
(Mr Cameron) Indeed.
119. Not just in a submission to the Policy
Commission, but messages to Government as well?
(Mr Cameron) Yes, we are totally at one on that.
(Mr Wakeford) There is another angle to this, because
the Treasury tend to look at it in the way you are looking at
it, in terms of expenditure. If we have a thriving rural economy,
then more taxes will be paid, so there is another bit going into
the Treasury account, and they ought to be able to benefit.
(Mr Cameron) That can be clearly proven this year.
This year a disease in agriculture affected the rural economy
in a major way.
Chairman: We have two former Treasury Ministers
here, and I can see scepticism seeping out of their features on