UKIP – what does it mean for the rural sector?

The recent rise of UKIP has been nothing short of astonishing and has certainly meant some sleepless nights for our main stream politicians. But should it also cause some sleepless nights in the rural sector?

From what I can tell, the UKIP policy suite does not extend all that much further than “take the UK out of the EU” and “take back controls of our borders”. Its European election manifesto makes no mention of agriculture, other than to state that farming is an activity controlled by the EU. However, one can only assume that if the UK was to back away from the EU we would kiss goodbye to the Common Agricultural Policy and the £3.3 billion received annually by 200,000 farmers in the UK.

Would it be replaced by the UK Government? UKIP does not say, but it seems unlikely. Do you remember the “Vision for CAP 2020” document produced by the last Labour government? It advocated phasing out direct subsidy payments by 2020. This position was taken up enthusiastically by Caroline Spellman while she was in charge at Defra. The rhetoric only changed when it became clear that there was little support for such a policy elsewhere in Europe.

CAP does not only provide direct farm payments. It also provides other rural funding streams, such as agri-environment schemes, Woodland Grant Scheme, socio-economic schemes under the RDPE, training, broadband and business support schemes. It is fair to say that the loss of CAP is unlikely to be positive for the rural economy!

With a General Election less than a year away, UKIP’s Westminster policies still look rather thin. It does say that it would abolish green taxes and subsidies for wind turbines. It does not elaborate on how this would affect schemes such as the Renewable Heat Incentive, which have proved to be very popular across the rural sector. It does also say that it would develop shale gas to provide us all with cheap energy. Whether this would be the case in reality remains to be seen. Would they legislate to make it easier to “frack” without the added cost of the consent of the surface owner?

UKIP certainly has much work to do to set out a credible manifesto in time for the General Election, but it will have to pull some rabbits out of the hat if it is to compensate for seeking to get rid of the CAP support. As a starter, it does say that it would abolish Inheritance Tax. That would no doubt be warmly received by the “asset rich, cash poor” North East landowners. However, what price would land be if it did not attract capital tax relief nor benefit from CAP support payments?

If you would like any further information or to discuss any rural related matter, please contact Tom Wills, head of the agriculture & estates department at Sintons.

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