New hotline for rural business leaders to government

Rural business and community leaders across East Anglia have been promised a hotline to government ministers through the creation of a new regional network.

Farming Food and Rural Network East is one of 14 partnerships, representing different areas of England, which were announced by farming minister Jim Paice yesterday.

The hope is that the new organisation will be able to identify local issues and feed them directly to Defra, allowing it to shape future rural policies and target regional concerns.

The network will include a diverse spectrum of organisations from rural communities and businesses, including food production industries, councils, churches, wildlife and conservation trusts.

It will be divided into two groups, with one forum representing community concerns like transport, housing and technology, and the other looking at the food and farming sector.

Representatives from both sections will form an executive group to discuss the combined issues and present them to policy-makers at Defra.

Martin Collison is vice-chairman of the East of England Rural Forum and also works with the Centre for Contemporary Agriculture, based at the University of East Anglia and Easton College, which represents the food and farming industries.

Most Read

He said: 'What is interesting about this new network is that the previous government had a very fixed approach in how they wanted us to engage with them and the structures in place were driven from the centre. While the government has moved away from regional development agency approach, there is still the need to recognise that the needs of this area are not the same as other parts of the country.

'What is good about this is that Defra have thrown it back to the rural and farming communities to propose the structures which are most appropriate to them. The hope is that each group which is part of the network will report on what is important to them and not to be told from the centre what they should be concerned about.'

Although the network is still in its infancy, Mr Collison said there was already a clear view on the key issues which it hoped to promote, including:

n 'Digital inclusion' to ensure rural communities benefit from next-generation internet services.

n Economic growth and job creation, reducing the dependence on commuting.

n Positive reaction to demographic changes to help families, young and elderly people to stay established and successful in their communities.

n To maximise agricultural production to meet the growing global demand for food and non-food products, like fuel, bioplastics and biofibres, while improving efficiency and reducing environmental impact.

n Utilise the world-class agri-food science base at the Norwich Research Park in Colney to support the priorities of production, sustainability and healthy food choices.

The new networks are intended to work alongside the Rural Growth Networks proposed as part of the government's �165m rural support package announced in November.