Ministers urged to do more to help rural communities
Investment in high-speed broadband and a "fair deal" for British farmers is vital to reviving hard-pressed rural communities, grassroots Liberal Democrats have said.
At the party's spring conference, members passed a policy motion setting out a "clear Liberal Democrat vision" to build "thriving" towns and villages in the Westcountry.
In the debate, one Devon councillor warned of the damaging impact on motorists of spiralling fuel prices and David Heath, the Farming Minister and MP for Somerton and Frome, said internet connections in the countryside are so poor a runner with a cleft stick would be faster than the broadband he receives.
The motion called for better broadband, a more transparent market and further reform of the Common Agricultural Policy to ensure "fair trade" for British farmers and more funding to provide "sustainable" rural jobs.
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The motion, while not binding on the Government, will pressure ministers to do more to help the countryside.
Roger Williams, co-chairman of the Lib Dem parliamentary party committee on rural affairs, said: "Rural communities can and should be thriving and vibrant places but in reality, that's not the case everywhere. Our rural communities face many issues from unemployment to high housing and energy prices.
"Liberal Democrats want to support these communities because they add to the diversity of Britain and form a vital part of our society.
"The coalition Government has already done much to support them, such as ending the council tax discount for second homes and the Grocery Code Adjudicator. We want to do more to build sustainable rural communities with strong local economies, where everyone can get on."
He added: "Through investing in broadband, reforming European agricultural policies, joined-up local transport policies and creating more affordable housing, Liberal Democrat Conference has endorsed a clear vision for the future of rural communities."
Newton Abbot town councillor Marie Jenkins said the days when a car was viewed as "a luxury" were "over", particularly when Conservative councils "continue to butcher our bus services, and train tracks get washed away" by flooding.
Mr Heath warned of a lack of bus services that meant in his village in Somerset "you don't get a bus every hour. You get one a week, and it comes back the following week".
He added it meant young people growing up in rural areas lack access to training and skills afforded to peers in towns and cities.
He said: "Don't tell people who can't afford regular increases in petrol that it's because they are just determined not to use the alternatives. There aren't alternatives in many rural areas."