Election Update

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News article

Election update

May 2015

Harry Cotterell election update
Against all the odds, and most predictions, the Conservatives have won their first majority since 1992. What are the key issues for farming and the rural economy and who are the personalities that matter?
 
Europe and the in/ out referendum will dominate the agenda, and its importance to the rural sector cannot be overstated. DEFRA ministers commonly feel that their Ministry is little more than the delivery arm of the EU, as 80% of the workload and funding originate in Brussels. In the run up to the election, very little had been done to consider what would happen in the event of an Out vote, and one assumes that this will be a priority for civil servants. 
 
The CAP is not popular with the electorate, UKIP’s pledge to abolish it was largely ignored by the other parties during the election campaign and it may be that the CAP becomes a key example of EU waste, profligacy and maladministration for the Out Campaign. One very concerning aspect of the renegotiation is the proposal to restrict freedom of movement. Farming and the food industry are reliant on European labour and little thought has been given to how it would be replaced.
 
In general the focus on economic growth, the cornerstone of the Tory campaign, will be the main priority for DEFRA. They have proposed a 25 year plan for British food production and a reduction in red tape, an increase in apprenticeships and a science led approach to GM crops. This means that farming will become more dependent on the market and subsidy will be focused on the environment.
 
The DEFRA team has undergone some minor changes. Liz Truss remains at the helm, a Norfolk MP who admits to being prepared to vote to leave the EU if the renegotiation fails to deliver, is a champion of British food who will have the RPA IT fiasco at the top of her agenda.  George Eustice, a Cornish MP and former UKIP candidate with a farming background, is promoted to Minister of State, whilst Rory Stewart, a cerebral Cumbrian MP who chaired the Defence Select Committee, is the new Under Secretary.
 
Throughout the coalition Government, the Secretary of State at the Energy Department came from the LibDems and this maintained the Government commitment to renewables. The Tory manifesto was clear about removing support for onshore wind and there was little mention of other technologies. The new incumbent is Amber Rudd, a newcomer to cabinet, and we must wait for her first pronouncements, but the direction of travel for UK energy policy seems headed towards nuclear and fracking rather than renewable technologies.
 
The election campaign was heavy on promises on house building and a Tory victory will mean that, in addition to ambitious proposals for new homes, there will be new towns. The Coalition’s planning reforms, the National Planning Policy Framework, with its emphasis on local plans, will be hard pressed to deliver, particularly in the face of local opposition. Eric Pickles has departed Communities and Local Government, to be replaced by Greg Clark, who, as the architect of the NPPF, has impeccable planning credentials.
 
In general, property owners and businesses can be reasonably content with the election result.  Labour’s punitive proposals on tax and property are firmly in the long grass, for now, and they will, in all likelihood, reposition to try and win the middle ground. Rest assured, for the new Government, the dust will settle, the Tory euphoria will subside and it will be business as usual when the first crisis hits. 
 
Harry Cotterell 
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