Jim McMahon Chair of the Co-operative Party and Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 19th January 2022 Blog Share Tweet Photo by Magda V on Unsplash People growing up in our rural communities, as well as our towns, are too often forced to leave the places where they were born and raised, whether because the economy has been left to decline meaning they must leave in search of work, or because house prices have rocketed forcing them to move when they would otherwise stay. In the end, wherever you live in the community, it is our roots across family and friends which bind us. If we don’t repair the foundations, this will become the experience of more and more people. Although around 9.7m people (17.1%) in the UK live in rural areas according to DEFRA, issues of rural poverty and poor infrastructure have rarely been given the much-needed attention by the Government they deserve. Our rural economies have been left struggling after the impact of COVID-19 coming on top of years of cutbacks, our high quality food producers being undercut in trade deals and uncertainty over the Government’s new environmental support schemes. We have also seen in the course of the pandemic that we have all come to appreciate open space, quality of life and our immediate community even more. But while the public is demanding better environmental standards, access to nature and an ambitious plan to tackle the climate emergency, they see a government leading the news for all the wrong reasons, when they could be leading the world. Co-operatives form a significant part of the rural economy in this country – some of the largest co-operatives are in the agricultural sector with a turnover of over £7bn according to the 2021 Co-op Economy report. My sense is that with the right support, we could help this sector can grow even more. Both Labour and the Co-op Party are making inroads in rural areas which have been neglected and taken for granted for years by the Tories – with early signs of change in last year’s Labour victories in the Mayoral races in the West of England and Cambridgeshire and Peterborough. Other mayoral areas also contain significant rural areas and natural landscapes, with South Yorkshire and West Yorkshire being good examples. It’s time then for a rural refresh. Let us know through the consultation here.