Skip to main content

Moves to support UK’s farming future backed by England’s largest landowning Council

18 July 2023

As the owner of the largest county farms estate in England and Wales, Cambridgeshire County Council backed a motion to help reverse a farming skills shortage, by supporting pathways into agriculture for young people and those from non-farming families, and calling for greater protection for agricultural workers’ rights.

Cambridgeshire County Council’s Farms Estate extends to over 33,000 acres of farmland across the county and has more than 160 tenants. In Cambridgeshire, 47% of the population lives in rural communities, a far higher total than the UK average of 17%.

Yet in a cross-party motion put by Cllr Alex Bulat, seconded by Cllr Mark Goldsack, Members heard the UK’s level of food sufficiency is decreasing. According to the National Farmers Union, this decreased from 78% in 1984 to 60% in 2021. Hearing that the average age of UK farmers is 59, Members supported a move to work with skills providers to increase local vocational training to deal with shortages in the rural workforce, which have grown due to a range of national and international issues.

Based on her experience attending Cambridgeshire Young Farmers groups, Cllr Bulat called on Members to “protect the future of farming”. She highlighted that under both the current and previous administrations, Cambridgeshire farms contributed to local well-being through local food production, while also supporting a number of local environmental initiatives and contributing to the County’s Net Zero by 2045 priorities. Cllr Bulat stated there was a strong need to protect this work by ‘rural proofing’ council policies and developments.

The Council also backed a proposal for its Chief Executive to write to the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs calling for greater protection of food standards and workers' rights in the agricultural sector and expressing concern about labour shortages locally and nationally, calling for a more flexible seasonal worker scheme.

Other motions to receive support from Full Council today included a proposal from Cllr Lorna Dupre, to offer to join other local authorities in working with the Department for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities to fully explore the Government’s proposal for changes to the infrastructure levy. Currently developers pay a levy to support development of essential services needed when new housing is built, the Council would like to ensure thus provision is retained, improved and strengthened.

“The current developer contribution system is unfit for purpose, and a rethink is needed on how infrastructure is funded in England, but the proposed Infrastructure levy could result in less infrastructure being delivered and fewer affordable homes being built, impacting on housing delivery” she said.

The Council also agreed to ask the Chief Executive to write to the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities to express the Council’s concerns about proposed changes to the infrastructure levy, supporting the County Council’s Network’s view that funding from developers should continue to come to county councils in three tier areas such as Cambridgeshire.

A unanimously supported motion from Cllr Michael Atkins highlighted the issue of the disparity of costs of primary and high school uniforms across the county – and the burden this places on family budgets already stretched by the cost of living increases. The motion will see the council write to and remind head teachers of current government advice on uniforms, and collect and analyse data, sharing examples of good practice in uniform policy amongst the school community across the county.

And a final motion by Cllr Bryony Goodlife concerned supporting and promoting early years education. It proposed working with education unions, early years organisations, providers, schools, and parent organisations to call for a significant increase to funding free hours of early years education – particularly for families on lower incomes and for children with special educational needs, no increase in staff to child ratios and increased funding to upskill early years’ workforce.

You can view the recording of Cambridgeshire’s Full Meeting of Council and follow the debates on all four motions and other papers discussed today on the County Council’s YouTube channel