We cannot go on with Labour's scorched earth policy

Devon's rural communities face critical challenges over the next five years as a result of their "scorched earth" treatment at Labour's hands.

Our schools, receive one of the three lowest central government grants in the country. Our local young families face an acute shortage of affordable housing. Our services for the elderly and disabled receive one of the six lowest central government grants in the country. Our farmers have been told they must bear the brunt of Bovine TB, a disease that is laying waste to local farms, by a government that has instituted an unfair compensation scheme and which does not have the courage to take the essential action to control it. Our post offices have been brutally closed, heedless of the interests of the small and fragile village communities they served. Pubs in our villages and market towns have faced higher business rates and higher taxes driving many to close. Our health services are over stretched and a covert form of rationing health care is a growing phenomenon.

Over the next few weeks, I am again holding a series of open surgeries where anyone who wishes can come and discuss any subject they like with me. But in the last four and a half years, as your MP, I have seen every one of these problems vividly illustrated in individual cases with which my local team in Bideford and I have done our best to help. The real hardship which many of our neighbours are experiencing, particularly during the recession, is often a painful reminder of the impact of urban centred national policy on local people and local interests. It has frequently been a deeply frustrating experience to enter into a dialogue with Ministers about these cases only to find that they are not interested in the evidence of the effect of their policies and decisions on the people of Torridge and West Devon.

That is why I believe we cannot go on as we are. We must have a change. Even now the Government seems to be planning to rip up the County of Devon into two unitary authorities, a plan not even supported by the Boundary Committee which was asked to advise the government, and to abolish our local district councils which give rural areas their own distinctive voice. Let us hope it will relent; this would cost tens of millions of pounds at a time of an unprecedented debt crisis in the public finances and leave the rural areas of Devon on their own, without the economic centre of Exeter. A scorched earth policy indeed.