Skills needed as rural unemployment soars

THE Government has been urged to invest in agricultural skills and jobs after official figures showed rural unemployment to be soaring.

There were around 300,000 people unemployed in rural areas at the end of 2009 compared to 228,000 in 2008, according to the Government’s Labour Force Survey.

Unemployment has also risen disproportionately in rural areas where the number of jobless in England and Wales jumped by 64 per cent in the last two years, compared to 52 per cent over the region as a whole.

Nick Herbert, Shadow Defra Secretary, said the figures proved Labour had ‘ignored the countryside’.

“Rural communities can’t afford five more years of Gordon Brown,” he said.

The statistics come on top of a recent report commissioned by Whitehall which suggested both agriculture and food manufacturing were of low significance to the UK economy.

The report, published by the UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES), ranked agriculture and horticulture 26th out of 27 for its future economic significance.

Meurig Raymond, NFU deputy president, said he was ‘disappointed’ by the ranking.

“It is particularly strange given the major strategic role that farmers and growers have and will play in securing the nation’s food security, and in feeding a growing global population,” he said.

Peter Martin, Chief Executive of Lantra, the Sector Skills Council for the environment and land based industries, said the food supply chain in the UK employed around 3.6 million people and incorporated the country’s largest manufacturing sector, contributing £155bn to the UK’s GDP.

The Government’s dismissal of agriculture’s economic significance was therefore ‘a staggering oversight’, he said.  

However, following a meeting with Lantra, the Chief Executive of the UKCES, Chris Humphries, has agreed to ‘look again’ at their report.

Mr Martin welcomed the move. He said it was ‘vital’ the Government understood the need to increase investment into agricultural skills and jobs.

He added the sector would need a minimum of 60,000 new entrants over the next decade to replace retiring workers and allow the industry to stand still.

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