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Last Updated: Saturday, 18 February 2006, 00:08 GMT
Foot and mouth efforts 'failed'
Burning of carcasses during the foot-and-mouth crisis
The study marks the fifth anniversary of Foot and Mouth
Government efforts to boost the rural economy following the foot and mouth crisis have failed, a report concludes.

A study by the Centre for Rural Economy at Newcastle University found household incomes in very remote rural areas are still below the national average.

CRE Director Prof Neil Ward said rural policies were "in more of a mess" than before 2001's outbreak due to "bungling of the lesson-learning process".

Rural Affairs Minister Jim Knight said many rural communities were thriving.

However, he admitted: "There are real problems facing many rural communities - most particularly the lack of affordable housing and low pay - and it is important that we do not shy away from tackling these issues."

The mishandling of the FMD outbreak meant an animal disease wrought havoc on non-farming businesses in rural areas
Prof Neil Ward
CRE Director

The Foot and Mouth outbreak, which began in 2001, led to the slaughter of 6.5m animals, devastated many farms and rural businesses, and is estimated to have cost the UK up to 8bn.

Ministers were criticised after the crisis for failing to prepare properly for an outbreak on that scale and for not halting the spread of the disease quickly enough.

The whole crisis is estimated to have cost the country up to 8bn.

According to the study, which marks the fifth anniversary of the crisis, Cumbria and Devon - the worst affected counties - are lagging even further behind national economic growth rates.

Researchers at the CRE said a key reason for the slump was the failure of policies aimed at developing local rural economies since the Foot and Mouth crisis.

EU rural development

Prof Ward, said: "After foot and mouth, the government had planned to improve its handling of rural affairs through a new Department of Rural Affairs.

"But setting up Defra in 2001 resulted in a sprawling ministry also handling environmental protection and climate change. The result has been the reverse of what was planned, and a marginalisation of rural affairs in Whitehall."

The authors also said the government's response to the crisis and its aftermath was too heavily oriented towards the farming industry.

Farmers received 1.34bn in compensation for livestock losses, while just 39m was given to the Business Recovery Fund aimed at rural businesses that suffered losses.

The report's authors also said less than 4% of European Common Agricultural Policy funding earmarked for rural development is available to non-farming businesses and activities in the UK - such as rural services, village improvement and tourism.

Learning lessons

"The mishandling of the foot and mouth disease outbreak meant an animal disease wrought havoc on non-farming businesses in rural areas," Prof Ward said.

"Sadly, the bungling of the lesson-learning process has meant that polices for rural areas are in more of a mess than before foot and mouth struck, and those who suffered worst from the crisis have been let down."

But Rural Minister Jim Knight urged people to "look at the full picture", adding that "many rural communities are thriving economically, with a broad range of businesses and average incomes above the national average".

He added: "We also need to look at the whole funding picture. In addition to the direct payments that go to farmers under the Common Agricultural Policy, the government spends well over 200m a year on rural development funding specifically to aid rural enterprises in all sectors.

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