How New Government Plans May Affect Yard Owners and Rural Communities

7 July 2024

With a clear win, Labour have now taken over the UK government, and welcomes a new Prime Minister in Keir Starmer with the new parliament officially taking their seats on Tuesday 9 July. But many are wondering how may the proposals by this new government affect those living rurally, and in particular yard owners, and how they may affect changes to existing proposals for change?

The new government are faced with tackling the climate emergency, ecological collapse, high costs of living, widening inequality in the housing market, and ensuring food and energy security. The countryside is vital for our country’s future, and the climate and nature crises will have enormous implications for how we use our land and how rural businesses develop and survive.

The Labour manifesto, issued in advance of the General Election, does include a huge amount that will impact rural landowners. It states the commitment to policies supporting rural communities: the continuation of Environmental Land Management schemes (ELMs), planning and housing reform, better grid and digital connectivity and being tough on rural crime.

Steve Reed MP has been appointed as Secretary of State for Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, a role he has shadowed since September 2023. Following the appointment, Tim Bonner, Chief Executive of the Countryside Alliance said:

“I would like to extend my congratulations to Steve Reed and wish him every success in his role. From tackling rural crime; championing farmers and producers; recognising the role of wildlife management and the value of trail hunting, shooting and fishing; and delivering a connected countryside, the issues facing the new DEFRA team are complex and broad. Both Steve Reed and the Prime Minister, Keir Starmer, have talked about respecting the countryside and have acknowledged their own party’s past failings when approaching our rural community. Time will tell if these words are put into action, but the Countryside Alliance stands willing and ready to work with the Government to achieve results for the countryside.”

As well as new policy promises, there will be effects related to previous or existing campaigns. As we already reported in May, the appeal against the use of fireworks has already been disrupted due to the General Election. A recent petition to ban the sale of fireworks to the general public was due to be debated on 24th June 2024. Unfortunately following the results and subsequent new committees elected, it will now be up to the new Petitions Committee to decide if they wish to schedule a new debate following this petition.

Employment could also be affected. Rural employers could be hit hard by a refocus on employees’ rights. The manifesto suggests that minimum wage will rise, with no age bands. Labour also intends to tighten The Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations 2006 (TUPE) and extend parental leave and protection against unfair dismissal to those in their first two years of employment. Enforcement of workers’ rights will change with a single enforcement body and bolstered tribunals. Health and safety and blacklisting protections will be extended to self-employed workers. Unpaid internships are to be banned, except when they are part of an education or training course.

Although animal welfare was mentioned in the manifesto, this covers the banning of trail hunting, improved processes for importing and exporting livestock, and banning puppy farming, but it is unclear how the recent consultations for the improvements of Equine ID and potential licensing on the basis of welfare improvements may now stand.

Prior to the election, there were also claims from the Conservatives that the Labour Party plans an inheritance tax raid on family farms, threatening their survival. No changes to the inheritance (or indeed any other) tax regime specifically affecting farming are mentioned in Labour’s 2024 manifesto, and Labour has denied the claims, branding them “desperate nonsense”, but according to an article in The Express, the party has declined to rule it out. 

With budgets having been stretched by rising prices in recent times, it is expected that the new Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rachel Reeves, will present her first Budget after receiving an economic forecast from the Office for Budget Responsibility in September. Interest rates are currently at their highest level for 16 years at 5.25%, meaning people are paying more to borrow money, and the prices of some staples have rocketed over the last 12-18 months. Huge increases on business costs such as energy have also seen yard owners struggle. It is hoped that the forthcoming Budget may give some hope.

What happens next? Following any general election there is a period of transition in which the new parliament assembles, MPs are sworn in and the new government is formed. There then follows the King’s Speech in which the government indicate their plans. Rural associations such as the CLA and the Countryside Alliance will work with all the new MPs to ensure they understand the pressures and needs of rural communities.

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