By Local Democracy Reporter Ciaran Duggan
The devastating impact of the coronavirus on farmers has been laid bare as a local authority pledges to support the revival of the rural economy.
Kent County Council’s (KCC) scrutiny committee met yesterday (January 22) and agreed to press the government and County Hall chiefs to provide urgent help to the agricultural sector.
A KCC-led inquiry, carried out in November, found Kent rural communities had been “significantly” impacted by the pandemic, threatening the survival of some businesses.
Since last March, they have faced staff shortages, a decline in tourism and supply chain losses because of supermarket shutdowns, with some dairy farmers having financial payments from shops delayed by up to four months.
One Kent farmer lost up to 40% of his trade overnight when the hospitality sector was forced to shut its doors during the first UK-wide lockdown.
At the virtual meeting, Folkestone and Hythe county councillor Rory Love (Con) told the panel of 13 councillors: “The issue is that if you take away the paninis and the burgers, the salad leaves that go into them suddenly have no market.
“That has a knock-on effect, right through the supply chain to the salad growers in Kent.”
KCC’s inquiry revealed the county’s farming sector faces a shortfall of 18,000 rural workers. Staff shortages have worsened as Covid restrictions, such as travel bans, make it more difficult for people to come to the UK.
In 2018, Theresa May’s government piloted a scheme allowing fruit and vegetable farmers to employ migrant workers for six months, but this was capped at a maximum of 10,000 people for the whole of the UK last February.
KCC’s economic development cabinet member, Cllr Mike Whiting (Con), has been asked to write to the Home Office to secure “sufficient” labour for the county, by expanding the government’s Seasonal Workers pilot scheme.
Swale county councillor John Wright (Con) told the panel: “This inquiry brought out a lot of pain that rural businesses are going through during the pandemic and it is up to us to respond and react to help them.”
A total of 11 recommendations have been made to County Hall’s Conservative executives to help rebuild the sector in a “sustainable” and “environmentally-friendly” manner.
Under the plans, a Kent rural board could be re-established, acting as a KCC lobbying body to try and change government laws and secure financial aid.
Other recommendations include protecting “potentially productive” farming land against housing development and providing mental health counselling for socially-isolated farmers.
Malling Rural East county councillor Matthew Balfour (Con), former cabinet member for environment, said: “This throws up the fact that KCC as an organisation has lost its way in representing and looking after the rural economy.”
Meanwhile, KCC’s main opposition leader, Cllr Rob Bird (Lib Dem), called for a “land value tax” to be introduced to discourage the “destruction” of farming land by housing developers.
A final decision on whether to press ahead with the recommendations will be made by KCC’s cabinet over the next two months.
Expect food shortages next, because this won’t only affect the UK! Much of our food is imported, largely from the EU, and what with all the extra paperwork needed to bring trucks into and out of the UK, many food producers will try and find other markets!
We need all the agricultural land possible in Kent and must stop the local authority planners giving development consent on our growing fields. There should be more value put on growing our own foods in the UK now we have left the EU market so we need all the land we have, and redeveloping Brownfield sites must be the way to go for any new needed homes.
Can some one from the kcc tell me which supermarket was forced to shut
As far as I can see they are the only ones that are open and selling everything
Brexit means the cost of food imports will rise. But to grow many of these crops here in the UK will either be difficult due to climate or will need lots more agricultural workers. But these will need to be migrant workers from the EU or further afield. But Brexit was supposed to reduce immigration!!
Anyway, wages will be deliberately kept low by this particular government , so the number of workers likely to be attracted to Britain will reduce accordingly. Why come to Britain where the population contains a large minority who grumble at hearing foreign accents when wages in Germany or Holland are so much better?
Many other people have said that this pandemic has exposed the weaknesses in Britain, the poor health and social infrastructure, the understaffed schools and Police, the businesses that only exist because of low wages and poor conditions.
Covid has revealed our crumbling society and economy(worst death rate in the world!). Brexit is part of a plan to make it worse.
Labour bull shite get your depression sorted your continuous moaning is not healthy people are not interested in you views that consist of nothing but moaning and if this country is such a mess what are you still doing here?
No, K B, it is not Labour BS at all. It is people including some Tories who had the intelligence and foresight to see that little Britain will be in the shit, its people pulverised by increasing poverty and the very wealthy richer than ever. And that was before our knackered NHS was reduced to a Covid only service through preparing it for privatisation.
Are you missing being the life and soul of your local whilst propping up the bar?
Yes Clare it is bullshit as are your comments why don’t you and that other depressive get together so you can spout your drivel to each other as with keefogs if you do not like what is happening here why don’t you too move on somewhere else that will suit you?and by the way I do not prop up any bar, typical can’t win throw out the insults loooser.
I thought that most agricultural land in Thanet had been sold off by farmers so they could build houses on it. They must be making a fortune.
not only farmers but T D C are too.they are not innocent in all of this.
And remote pointless unstaffed railway halts.
ah but that is being built for those that work away from Thanet and for those that will move to the estate that will be built around it but also work elsewhere.yes you’ve got it London.