Farming is an integral part of life in Staffordshire Moorlands, and I am proud of the work that this Conservative government has been doing to help farmers across the UK achieve more.
Supporting our farmers
Since 2010, we have opened more than 600 food and drink markets outside Europe to our producers and we are successfully marketing our food and drink brand around the world, as part of the “Great” trade campaign. In dairy alone – so important locally – exports have gone up two thirds in the past five years. We are already Europe’s biggest lamb exporter, and overall food and drink sales abroad have risen strongly since 2010.
Cutting red tape
We are improving planning rules and cutting other red tape, enabling farmers in Staffordshire Moorlands to get on with their vital work. Inspectors will continue to go to farms to assure high standards, but by rationalising the way they do it we have cut more than 30,000 inspections a year and will cut a further 20,000, saving our farmers’ time and taxpayers’ money. We are bringing in reforms that will make Staffordshire farmers’ tax bills more predictable, even when their incomes are volatile, helping them plan securely.
This is great news for our farmers, but I know that we are not there yet. Over the past year, family farms in our constituency have been struggling with the continuing fall in milk prices. I have met local farmers, both in the constituency and in Westminster, to discuss their concerns and will always look into any individual issues on behalf of my constituents.
On a positive note, since the General Election returned a Conservative majority, the government has given real power to the Groceries Code Adjudicator, the body which protects suppliers against retailers passing on excessive risks or unexpected costs. It can now issue recommendations to supermarkets on future conduct, name and shame those which breach the code, and can levy fines on large supermarkets of up to 1 per cent of their annual UK turnover. These powers send a strong message to retailers that complying with the Code is not optional, and will be a great help to farmers in Moorlands farmers who work incredibly hard to produce high quality food and deserve to be treated fairly.
Rural areas are key to ensuring growth as entrepreneurs take advantage of new technologies and revitalise our villages. For those small businesses operating in remote areas of the Moorlands, poor rural broadband has historically been a cause for serious concern. But I am pleased to report good news. Recent figures published by independent website thinkbroadband[add link?] reveal that 77.6% of households in our constituency can now access superfast broadband, whilst a further 11% can access fibre broadband; to put this into perspective, in May 2010 the combined figure stood at 32%.
For those of you still unable to access adequate broadband, I understand your frustration. However I am delighted to let you know that £1.7 billion is being invested in extending superfast broadband provision across the UK, and by 2017, 95 per cent of the UK will be connected. The nationwide roll-out is on track, and 4 million homes and businesses have now been connected. In Staffordshire, it is hoped that 90% of rural areas will soon be served by 24Mb speed, and I am pressing Ministers to accelerate the plans to make sure they reach our villages.
Grants and Development Programme
Government money is scarce these days, but a total of £165 million is being put directly into rural areas through the Rural Development Programme[add link], with £20 million for vocational training to help rural and farming enterprises, including those in the Moorlands, increase their profits and get more competitive. And of course apprenticeships work in the country too - from village butchers to dry-stone wallers, apprenticeships can help all sorts of businesses.
And entrepreneurs in our area can benefit from a £60 million grant scheme to turn ambitious business plans into a reality. These grants can be worth more than £1 million each to help new businesses grow their businesses in farming, tourism, forestry and others micro enterprise support.
Farming and rural business is a very important issue to me, and I can assure you that I will continue to work hard to get your concerns heard in Westminster. If you have any specific issues, please don’t hesitate to contact me.