09:00 - 07 October 2002 
Margaret Beckett's performance at the Labour Party conference last week was a bitter disappointment to rural dwellers who believe she is not doing anything to earn her title of Rural Affairs Secretary. In a series continuing throughout this week, the WMN will outline the issues the Minister should be addressing:


As average incomes continue to fall year on year, many farmers in Britain are pessimistic about the future and are seeking to leave the industry when they can. Embattled dairy farmers form just one sector of the industry and they are desperately trying to raise their paltry returns for milk.


For many villages, the local post office, shop and garage are lifelines. Cut off from cities and towns, rural residents rely on their local amenities to survive. And yet post offices and garages continue to close in the countryside at an alarming rate, disrupting everyday life and causing villagers to feel ever-more isolated.


A lack of affordable housing, thought by many to be compounded by a growing number of countryside second homes and holiday homes, means that young couples in rural areas are finding it increasingly difficult to make their first steps onto the housing ladder. House prices continue to climb, while South West workers remain among the poorest paid in the country.


Funding, or more accurately, under-funding, is at the root of various infrastructural problems in the Westcountry. Headteachers and school governors have invited Prime Minister Tony Blair to visit the region to see the effects of under-funding on South West schools. Each school child in Devon is worth £195 less a year than the national average, they say.


Unreliable public transport and a lack of investment in roads has caused untold misery for secluded or congested communities. The people of Dobwalls in Cornwall, have campaigned for decades for a bypass past their village, which becomes gridlocked with tourist traffic in the summer.