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Wednesday, 16 May, 2001, 16:31 GMT
Labour: Rural and urban affairs

Find out more about Labour's policies on rural and urban affairs.

Urban and rural affairs, excepting food safety, are devolved to the relevant national political bodies. MPs elected to Westminster do not have a say on most of these issues in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Local government in Wales remains a Westminster matter.


AGRICULTURE AND COUNTRYSIDE

Labour says that its agriculture and countryside policies aim to ensure that food production is safe, that the rural economy and way of life is protected and that the industry is sustainable.

One major new policy announced in the manifesto is that the party would create a new ministry named the Department for Rural Affairs.

There would also be an independent commission to advise government on how to reform agriculture to make it sustainable, economic and competitive.

Labour says that it made available almost 630m in agri-monetary compensation to UK farmers between 1997 and 2001.

It also says that it provided a further 120m in emergency help to farmers in the most need - separate to the recent aid package to tackle the aftermath of the foot-and-mouth crisis.

The party says that it has fulfilled a manifesto pledge to increase spending on rural development and it will push for reform to the Common Agricultural Policy.

Labour says that its action plan for farming, unveiled in March 2000, deals with short-term assistance needs and sets a framework for making agriculture profitable.

This includes continued support for the Agricultural Wages Board, more lobbying for CAP reform and support for farms that want to go organic.

The party says that if returned to government it will order a scientific review of how to prevent future animal disease outbreaks.

Food safety

Labour said in 1997 that one of its priorities would be the establishment of an Food Standards Agency independent to the agriculture ministry.

It claimed that the Conservative government's handling of the BSE crisis had exposed a conflict of interest at the heart of government between those who produce food and the consumers.

The party says that the agency, established little over a year ago will restore public confidence in food production because it is independent of ministers and Whitehall influence.


RURAL ECONOMY

Labour says that the 40m Small Schools Support Fund established since 1997 would help to keep village schools open and improve education.

It has also introduced a 50% rate relief for village shops or post offices where they are the last of their kind remaining in a community.

The party says that its planned universal bank, where high street bank customers can obtain cash through post offices, will help secure the viability of rural post offices.

Labour says that its rural white paper, unveiled in November 2000, will help improve services, tackle poverty, develop the rural economy, protect wildlife and give people more choices.

This includes a "Rural Services Standards" which, the party says, will make clear for the first time what services people living in the countryside should expect.

Its main policies include:

  • 100m for one-stop health centres
  • 192m in subsidies to rural transport schemes
  • 270m to diversify post office services
  • 15m fund for rural enterprise
  • 45m (some pre-announced) for rural police (2000-2004)
  • Reforming planning laws to enable farmers to diversify their land use
  • Making second home owners pay full council tax, money which would go into housing projects


    HUNTING

    Labour's 1997 manifesto said: "We will ensure greater protection for wildlife. We have advocated new measures to promote animal welfare, including a free vote in Parliament on whether hunting with hounds should be banned."

    Three attempts to ban hunting with hounds came before Parliament between 1997 and 2001.

    All three, including one brought forward by the government, failed because of a combination of blocking tactics and a lack of parliamentary time provided by the government.

    The party says that in a new parliament, the Commons would again have an opportunity to vote on the issue.

    "If the issue continues to be blocked [by the Lords]," the manifesto says, "we will look at how the disagreement can be resolved."

    The party says that it has "no intention whatsoever" of restricting country sports shooting and angling.


    HOUSING

    Labour believes that the UK will need 3.8 million new homes by 2016.

    In government, it set a target of 60% of new homes to be built on brownfield sites, ie those reclaimed from previous industrial or commercial use.

    In government Labour has revised down its target for the rate of home building in south-east England, the area under greatest pressure, saying that the region's local authorities should be building 39,000 new homes a year.

    This is 6,000 more homes a year than the region's local authorities say the infrastructure and environment can support - but substantially less than the rate of growth proposed by an independent report.

    The party says that it is committed to reducing by a third the amount of substandard housing stock by 2004. It says that it also supports the transfer of council tenants to social landlords, such as housing associations or arms-length council companies.

    The party says that it is already introducing measures to help 10,000 key workers buy homes in high-cost areas.

    On homelessness, Labour says that its Rough Sleepers Unit, headed by a so-called "homelessness czar" is seeking to co-ordinate all government policy and the work of the independent sector in eradicating the problem.

    Labour says that the unit has been given 36.5m to tackle rough sleeping outside London.


    URBAN RENEWAL

    Labour says that its establishment of the Social Exclusion Unit in 1997 was a major step towards solving the problems of inner-city areas.

    In 2000, the party said that it would be devoting 1bn over five years to a range of measures unveiled in the Urban White Paper.

    Part of the money will be devoted to exemption of stamp duty (the tax on buying a home) in the most disadvantaged communities and relief for cleaning up contaminated land.

    Other policies include:

  • Creating 12 urban regeneration companies to tackle social exclusion in hardest hit areas
  • Creating five more millennium communities along the same lines as the new community built on the Greenwhich peninsula, London
  • Proposals to halt the migration of people from inner-cities
  • A 7% increase in funding of key public services (this is not a specific urban renewal measure but affects the policy)
  • Setting a target of raising all social housing to a decent standard within 10 years
  • 250m in grants over three years to help key workers (such as nurses and police officers) buy homes
  • An urban affairs cabinet committee to co-ordinate policy
  • Regional centres of excellence to improve skills and training in each region.

    Labour also announced in January this year that it wanted to push ahead with a programme of "neighbourhood managers".

    This would provide deprived communities with a "champion" who would co-ordinate residents' wishes with business investment and government policy in improving an area.


    LOCAL DEMOCRACY

    Labour introduced reforms to how local authorities deliver services following its election in 1997.

    It scrapped the previous government's Compulsory Competitive Tendering for council work in favour of a system which, the party says, ensures that tax payers get the "best value" service rather than just the cheapest on offer.

    Labour also introduced a system of Regional Development Agencies (RDAs) which are separate to government but seek to strategically plan a region's economic development and infrastructure - for instance by getting authorities to work much closer together on transport projects.

    Labour in government brought in laws that allow local authorities to "modernise" the way they operate in an effort to re-engage voters with their councils.

    The Local Government Act 2000 allows councils to:

  • Switch to an elected mayor system
  • Hold local referendums on important issues
  • Introduce a "cabinet system", professionalising the role of the councillor

    The 2000 council elections also saw local authorities test new forms of voting, such as in supermarkets or mobile polling stations, but the party has yet to decide on whether any of these experiments merited further implementation.

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