Countryside Alliance Executive Chairman Barney White-Spunner writes: Sixty-four per cent of people living in the countryside do not believe that the Coalition Government’s policies are helping rural Britain, research for the Countryside Alliance has shown. Nearly three quarters of them (73%) think politicians are more interested in the views and values of city dwellers, especially those living in London, rather than people in the countryside.
And rural dwellers are more likely to disagree with Government policies on fuel, transport and planning.
These concerns, voiced in the week of the local elections, should be a wake-up call to all three major political parties, but especially the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats.
Rural voters feel badly done by, and loyalties parties may have taken for granted in the past should not be tested further. The countryside needs concrete evidence that it matters to Government.
One of the commitments that the Government has so far failed to deliver has been a free vote on repeal of the Hunting Act. We understand the difficulties of government in coalition but both the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats should remember that hunting is a totemic issue to rural voters and they need to demonstrate to the countryside as a whole that they are listening and engaged.
The Government must also consider fuel prices. People in rural areas spend 25% more on average per month on their commute compared to those in urban areas.
We say the duty discount on petrol and diesel in the Hebrides, the Northern Isles, and the Isles of Scilly needs to be extended to further rural areas.
We need more affordable housing in the countryside.
Another issue is rural crime. The new Police and Crime Commissioners must ensure they do not ignore the countryside in their fight to bring overall crime figures down.
And rural communities and businesses also need better mobile phone and broadband services just as much as people living in cities.
The rural vote is a big one and the Government needs to work for it.