by David Bean

Yesterday evening the new Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs was announced as Ranil Jayawardena. Of all ministerial portfolios, he is taking up the one most closely intwined with rural interests.

Ranil has represented his home constituency of North East Hampshire since 2015, prior to which he was deputy leader of the Borough of Basingstoke and Deane while working for Lloyds Banking Group. His parliamentary experience has included membership of a range of select committees and service as Minister for International Trade between 2020 and 2022.

This is a critical juncture for the countryside and, recognising that Ranil is now the Minister primarily responsible, we would like to reiterate the top three priorities we suggested upon Liz Truss winning the Conservative Party leadership:

  1. Addressing the cost of living crisis. Driven by spiralling energy and fuel costs this is felt nowhere more keenly than in rural communities. Countryside Alliance research found that 45% reported greater anxiety and sleeplessness, more than three quarters have seen their disposable income fall by at least 10% and those relying on heating oil have suffered a 50% increase in the cost to fill their tanks. We call for an urgent VAT cut on fuel.
  2. Securing the British food supply. Russia’s monstrous assault on Ukraine has drawn food security into sharp focus and solutions are needed in the short and longer term. The Government should prioritise food production in its developing agricultural support schemes, recognising food as essential to environmental benefits and farmers as food producers as well as conservationists.
  3. Developing rural communities. Rural Britain needs levelling up too, including its infrastructure, so that rural businesses and families can thrive. Today’s announcement of a £110m fund to level up rural communities, published alongside its second report on rural proofing, is encouraging and we urge the Government to focus on digital connectivity in particular, helping close the rural productivity gap.

The Countryside Alliance welcomes Ranil to his post and looks forward to working with him.

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