Rural proofing is the responsibility of all Departments. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs plays a major role in making sure that it happens—as part of the policy-making process and in the design of delivery arrangements. We established the Commission for Rural Communities to monitor independently how policies are meeting rural needs.
Given that rural access to banks, schools, GPs and indeed post offices has significantly declined and that total farm incomes have fallen by 11 per cent. in real terms over the past year, does the Minister really think that the impact of Government policy on rural communities has been properly considered?
The hon. Gentleman made some particular challenges. Let me just say that in fact there has been a 37 per cent. increase in the number of cash points and in banking availability in rural communities since 1997. The hon. Gentleman mentioned rural transport. Bus availability in rural areas has increased from 35 to 51 per cent. between 1997 and 2006. I agree that the rural proof is in the rural pudding, but we have delivered it.
Does my hon. Friend agree that social enterprise has an important role in all forms of rural development? We need to look at a range of new services, including working with health and education. Will he make sure that other Departments are as keen as DEFRA about using models of social enterprise?
I am very pleased to endorse my hon. Friend’s remarks about the importance of social enterprise. It is one way for many village and rural communities around the country to take ownership of services, and they are beginning to be able to provide those services for themselves. I trust that I do not need to spread that message around my colleagues in other Departments, as most are well aware of the social enterprise work that is going on, through the co-ordinating work of the Cabinet Office—
Indeed, but it is the brother of my Secretary of State who has been co-ordinating the work going on in Government, to great effect.
When he looks at rural proofing, will the Minister have a word with the Minister of State, Department of Health, the hon. Member for Don Valley (Caroline Flint), who is officially in charge of Food Standards Agency regulations? An abattoir in my constituency has been closed for two weeks while the FSA dillies and dallies over investigating whether its licence should be restored. In looking at rural proofing, it is clear that one thing that has to be considered—
Order. That is fine. I think that the Minister can manage an answer.
I understand the seriousness of the hon. Gentleman’s question. I know of the investigation to which he refers. Although it would be improper for me to comment, we want it to be concluded at the earliest possible date.