A damning report has condemned Government neglect of rural communities and accused ministers and civil servants of taking more interest in high-profile issues such as climate change.
The House of Commons inquiry warned the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) concentrated on “green” issues instead of supporting shire counties, even though it was responsible for both.
But helping rural businesses achieve potential could be worth up to £347 billlion each year to Britain’s economy, the inquiry said.
The report was published by the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, including Lynne Jones (Lab Selly Oak).
She said: “It’s essential we take climate change and the environment very seriously. But we found DEFRA was doing this, which is part of its job, and neglecting its work supporting rural areas, which is equally part of its job.
“Birmingham has a large rural hinterland. It would benefit the cities if businesses in rural areas are succesful.”
DEFRA was created in 2001 when the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food was merged with part of the Department of Environment, Transport and the Regions.
The aim was to create a department responsible for the environment, from farming to climate change.
The MPs said: “There was always a danger, as national and global interest in the environmental aspects of DEFRA’s brief increased in proportion to the political significance of climate change, there would be a decrease in the political priority and resources for rural affairs.”
The Government has created a new Department of Energy and Climate Change, which means responsibility for dealing with global warming has been moved to a different department.
“We will expect to see evidence of the department taking the opportunity to focus more closely on its rural responsibilities,” the MPs said.
They highlighted a study which found the untapped potential to the British economy from rural businesses was between £236 million and £347 million a year.
But regional development agencies – the official bodies responsible for promoting economic development – gave the impression they were more interested in towns and cities, the MPs said.
They warned: “The extent to which this view is justified is certainly debatable. However, the opinions that were expressed to us indicate that regional development agencies are having difficulty communicating what they are doing in rural areas.”