Few would disagree that it is a matter of strategic national interest to ensure that our country can feed itself. For the first time in over 40 years we have a historic opportunity to design a domestic agricultural policy that will create a more productive and sustainable farming sector. The UK Agriculture Bill (debated in Parliament this week) has the potential to deliver food security and well paid jobs, increased investment and growth across the UK and, as we debate the Bill, I believe that there are three areas that offer a particular opportunity for Cornwall and Scilly. These are the Government’s new framework for paying out public money in return for public good, the opportunity to transform how we feed the nation and the opportunity to increase our food and drinks export to new markets. The Bill is welcome as it obliges the post EU Government to “have regard to the need to encourage the production of food by producers in England and its production by them in an environmentally sustainable way.” Farmers locally can benefit from the new financial support framework because they do not see any conflict in their role as food producers and environmental stewards. Healthy and fertile soil, efficient agrochemical use, resilience to the impacts of climate change, and abundant pollinator populations are all necessary components of productive and profitable farming.
Furthermore there is an appetite for Cornwall to play an active part in shaping a more sustainable prosperous and skilled farming sector. Work is already under way to explore what are known as ‘novelty crops’ to see how alternative crops can help to decarbonise farming whilst offering an attractive opportunity for existing farmers and new blood to make a living and provide well paid jobs. There is also an appetite across Cornwall to grasp the concept of Regenerative Farming. I am personally ambitious about what this Agriculture Bill and the Environment Bill can deliver. I am also conscious of the need to ensure that, as we begin the process of crafting new trading arrangements, government policy is coherent and that trade policy and agricultural policy go hand in hand.
The announcement of up to £450m to build a new hospital and/or improve hospital facilities in Cornwall was met with scepticism by some last year. The fact is that RCHT has now been awarded £4.6m seed funding to develop the case for rebuilding Cornwall’s NHS infrastructure. Whatever is proposed will be subject to widespread consultation and must meet the Long Term NHS Plan that commits to modernising the way we deliver NHS services including bringing more healthcare services closer to our communities. Again, most would agree with this priority and will welcome this recent development and demonstration of the Government’s commitment to NHS services in Cornwall and on Scilly.