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Countryside Alliance priorities for the 2024 Budget

Ahead of this year’s Spring Budget due on Wednesday 6 March, last month the Countryside Alliance wrote to the Chancellor of the Exchequer to outline what we believe are the key fiscal priorities to promote and protect rural communities. Here is what we asked of him: 

You may be aware of the ‘rural premium’, the added costs of living that residents must pay by virtue of living in a rural area. This is a key challenge to rural Britain and reflects the reality of our members’ and supporters’ daily lives. 

Fuel Duty 

Our research, highlighted in the APPG for Rural Business and the Rural Powerhouse report on the rural premium launched last April, shows that rural households spend almost £800 a year more on fuel than people who live in urban areas, and spend up to 6 pence per litre more for petrol. The cost of petrol is a critical issue facing rural communities.  

In 2022 the fuel duty level was cut by 5 pence per litre, ostensibly for one year, but last year you extended it until 2024. Pressure on rural communities’ finances remains, and so we would argue that now is not the time to let the cut lapse, which would have the effect of raising fuel duty by 5 pence from the current level. We therefore ask that you maintain the current level of fuel duty, with the 5 pence cut intact, and make the reduced level permanent so that rural motorists will no longer have to face the spectre of an automatic rise after each successive Budget. 

Domestic heating oil 

As longstanding supporters of people living in homes without a connection to the gas grid, we welcomed the Prime Minister’s announcement in September that the mooted ban on like-for-like replacements of oil boilers would be put off until 2035, and homes that could not be reliably heated by other means will not be forced to switch. Concerns remain, however, about the affordability of heating oil.  

In recognition of the higher costs faced by those who rely on this fuel, we ask that you use powers returned to the UK following our departure from the EU to reduce the VAT rate on domestic heating oil to zero. We would also like to see a cut in the VAT payable by rural businesses that use the fuel, which (above small quantities) is chargeable at the full rate of 20% since the reduced rate of 5% applies only to domestic properties. 

Rural broadband  

In October the Government launched two consultations on improving access to broadband in rural areas. One considers changes to the universal service obligation; the other concerns proposals for improving access for properties classified as ‘very hard to reach’.  

The consultations set out clear ambitions for delivering the quality broadband infrastructure that we know is essential for rural businesses and homes in the modern day. We therefore ask that you finance the capital investment needed to achieve them. 

Electric vehicle infrastructure  

Despite the Prime Minister’s announcement in September that the ban on sales of new petrol and diesel cars and vans would be put off until 2035, we recognise that the electrification of road transport remains a key element of the Government’s plans to achieve net zero carbon emissions. For this to be possible there must be an adequate network of charging points including at people’s homes, and a robust enough electric grid infrastructure to support the additional demand, particularly at peak times such as when people have returned home from work.  

We ask that you make clear what capital investment funding will be made available for charging points and the underlying electric grid. Both networks will need to support this transition while still allowing people who rely on private road transport to use their vehicles as required. 

Litter and fly tipping  

Excepting large-scale incidents, the investigation and prosecution of littering and fly tipping offences is the responsibility of local authorities. Aside from blighting the landscape and damaging the environment, littering and fly-tipping imposes significant costs on councils, which must clear up fly-tipped waste on public land they control, and landowners such as farmers who must bear those costs when it is dumped on their land. These crimes are penalised through fines, whose maximum levels were increased in July; the Government has also ringfenced the money raised through fines for councils’ waste enforcement and clean-up activities.  

Defra’s fly-tipping statistics issued last month showed a modest increase in the number of local authority enforcement actions, but these still account for less than half the number of fly-tipping incidents they faced. There is therefore an opportunity to provide councils with additional funding for the specific purpose of investigating and prosecuting these offences. This would act as seed money, stimulating more upfront investigatory activity that could result in higher, re-investable returns from fines, plus reduced clean-up costs thanks to the enhanced deterrence from demonstrating a greater likelihood of offenders being caught.

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