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Programme highlights Wednesday, 11 April, 2001, 14:23 GMT 15:23 UK
Hague demands more money for farmers
Farmers confused over help available to them
Rural businesses should be offered 500 million in interest-free loan guarantees - underwritten by the Government - to help them through the foot and mouth crisis.

That was one of the ideas put forward by the Conservative leader William Hague this morning.

He offered a detailed list of proposals on everything from increasing the number of slaughtermen, relaxation of some movement restrictions and further help for the tourist industry.

Hague says Government penny pinching

Mr Hague also complained about the latest amendments to the Ministry of Agriculture website.

Over the past few weeks, the statistics on offer have been seriously slimmed down.

The latest casualty of this information-blight is the regular update of the number of animals awaiting slaughter - and the number of carcasses to be disposed of.

Both totals have risen steeply, which is deeply embarrassing: the 24-hour target between detection and slaughter is drifting further and further into the distance.

Mr Hague said he didn't know if MAFF was trying to hide anything, but the omission was suspicious.

The Treasury is being penny wise and pound foolish

William Hague

It is known there were 41 new cases in the 24 hours until 7 pm last night - and four more confirmed this morning, bringing the total to 1208.

The last recorded tally of animals identified for slaughter was approaching half a million.

All of this means that the end of the outbreak - even by the most optimistic reckoning - is not yet in sight. And for rural businesses, the future is unremittingly gloomy.

Ministers have made many promises of assistance. Indeed the rural taskforce - headed by the environment minister Michael Meacher - was making more pledges of assistance later today.

But the air is thick with complaints about the non-fulfilment of Government promises.

The Daily Express quoted a named Inland Revenue spokesman, Kieran Dougan, as saying that any deferred tax payments - in effect a loan from the Government - would have to be repaid eventually at a standard rate of 8.5%, above bank-rates.

Farmers confused over help available to them

The Inland Revenue was unable to confirm or deny that fact to the World at One directly, though the Treasury insisted it wasn't correct.

The programme received a statement saying that interest on tax debts is always waived in cases of extreme hardship - and that foot and mouth clearly falls into that category.

But the air of confusion is a source of deep concern to the members of the Federation of Small Businesses.

David Beardsley who speaks for the Federation in the South West is worried about every aspect of the help on offer. He told the programme that, because local councils could not afford to contribute to rate relief, most small businesses were not getting any help at all.

In most cases, there's no relief being given to small businesses at all

David Beardsley, Federation of Small Businesses

The Treasury's reassurance on income tax relief was matched by a statement from the Department of the Environment Transport and the Regions on rate relief: the DETR said it had already increased the allowable relief from 75% to 95%.

So far it had received no representations from councils saying that they couldn't afford to make up the last 5%. Such appeals would be considered.

As for loans, the Department of Trade and Industry told us they were not aware of banks charging excessive rates on loans: the underwriting of 75% of loans should be sufficient.

Neither the DETR nor the DTI was able to provide a minister to discuss the details on the World at One.

William Hague said that the overall problem reflected Treasury penny-pinching: he quoted the old saying 'penny wise pound foolish', to characterise the Government's approach.

It might save money in the short term, but Ministers would be faced with much larger bills later to redevelop areas wrecked by the foot and mouth crisis.

Environment Minister, Michael Meacher
What the Government promised rural businesses, Wato, 30 3 01
William Hague
Treasury is not helping farmers' plight
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