Thank you Sarah.
I am really encouraged both by the vision of HRH the Prince of Wales and the commitment of Mark (Price) in launching this Fund.
It is timely and necessary help for a vital part of our society.
The food and farming industry is worth £80 billion to this country every year. It employs over 3.5 million people. And what it produces is, literally, the stuff of life itself.
Our farmers work around the clock in all seasons and steward many of our most precious landscapes - 75% of our land in England is under agri-environmental schemes - yet total income from farming actually fell by nearly 7% last year.
It’s payback time.
Time for business, government and philanthropic organisations such as the Countryside Fund to help our farming sector remain resilient and grow their markets in the difficult economic times ahead.
Farming is integral to our countryside - it is there that this revival must take place.
Because while a graphic design business can be run from the top of a mountain and a gardening business from a flat in the middle of the city, our farmers are uniquely bound to their land and their locality - all too often we take for granted the way they steward the land for posterity.
As the Government’s rural champion, I welcome this Fund’s determination to help reach those parts that others can’t.
My own department’s Rural Development Programme for England will bring up to £4 billion of funding to rural communities - to encourage agri-environmental and other land management schemes and help make our agriculture and forestry more competitive.
But, as we all know, money is tight and will only get tighter.
It is vital that we develop the green jobs that our new green economy needs to thrive.
That’s why I particularly welcome this Fund’s focus on helping farmers find market solutions to sustainability and growth - and the sizeable investment from so many businesses shows their belief in our farmers’ unique selling points of quality, animal welfare and the benefits of locally produced food.
Rural communities are at the start of a renaissance in the recognition of their intrinsic economic and environmental value.
We must make sure that at every stage they have the infrastructure they need to make the most of the unique opportunities available to them.
In this digital age, too many rural areas still have limited access to broadband - one third of our farmers have no access at all.
That’s why this Government is committed to working with business and community groups to ensure the roll out of universal Superfast broadband - allowing rural communities to reach out to each other and to urban populations, improving existing businesses and kick starting new ones.
One in five of us live in a rural community. They are already home to more than one million businesses and employ over 5.5 million - rolling out Superfast broadband is probably the single most important thing we can do to help our rural communities and businesses thrive and grow.** **
This Government isn’t about top-down solutions to local problems - local communities know their own needs best and have plenty of ideas about how best to meet them.** **
That’s why, when it comes to the important local decisions that will affect the quality of life in their local areas, we want to give them back control.
Control over decisions about their local post offices, pubs and housing.
Getting rid of meaningless and unachievable targets for house building in favour of local people, local charities and local businesses leading the way in providing the right housing in the right places at the right price.
Today’s launch really does show that investing in our countryside is an investment in growth, in jobs and prosperity.
I wish the Countryside Fund every possible success as it helps grow our rural economies in the years ahead.