Staffordshire, Worcestershire and Gloucestershire are all keeping their council owned farms and regard them as valuable assets but the Tory cabinet in Herefordshire has decided we should sell ours for a quick buck. They did this a few years before when they sold half of the farms, with the promise of all the riches it was going to bring to the coffers then. Cllr Roger Philip’s boasts still ring in our ears. We were promised the capital receipts were going to grow and grow as the Conservatives wisely invested. Now, a few years down the line we are £180 million-odd in debt as a council and after selling the remaining farms, we have pretty much nothing left to sell. And in the meantime tenant farmers and their families suffer.

Fifteen Herefordshire farming families were served their notices to quit this month, those notices giving those families 12 months to go. Sheep, cows and horses will have to be moved, sold or put down. Children will be uprooted from the schools and countryside they grew up in. This is an incredibly difficult and sad time for these families and this was so very avoidable.

Our farming community has been let down completely. Cllr Harry Bramer, in particular, has behaved disgracefully in the manner in which he handled this affair. Despite being the cabinet member responsible for the portfolio governing county assets, he has not spoken to a single tenant farmer or their representatives during the whole process, leaving them worried, anxious and unsettled for over two years.

We have no huge income from business rates to fall back on when central Government reduces the grant to local authorities to zero as soon as soon as they can manage it, a policy both our Conservative MPs appeared to support when they voted in favour of a 25% reduction in funding for the financial year 2015-2016. So we really do needed to hang onto our assets.

We should have followed the strategy of county councils in the same position; kept the farms, rationalised them and borrowed against their value. This is what the Council’s own scrutiny and overview committee, with a Conservative majority proposed! Letters from the Bishop of Hereford, the NFU, the Tenant Farmers Association and several respected dignitaries urged cabinet members to follow that advice. They simply ignored all.

John Harrington

Chairman, It’s Our County