Small businesses in south Essex affected by foot-and-mouth will not get any rate relief because the Government says they are not rural enough.

The announcement came today (Thursday) as Tory leader William Hague was meeting Foulness farmer David Hull to discuss the devastating effects the outbreak on his farm.

The cash relief will go to Braintree and Uttlesford in the north of Essex. In protest at the decision, 12 of the county's district councils have joined forces to complain directly to the Department of Transport, Environment and the Regions about being left out.

The financial aid package gives businesses with a rateable value of £12,000 or less a reduction of £1,290 on their rate bill for a three-month period.

To qualify business have to prove they have suffered economic loss as a result of the epidemic and, more importantly, that they are in a rural area.

Steve Clarkson, head of revenue and housing management at Rochford District Council, said: "About 150 areas have been given this aid package and I imagine most of them have not actually had an outbreak in their area.

"It seems totally unfair that a place like Rochford with Ashingdon which has had an actual outbreak, has not been classed as rural enough when we clearly are."

Mr Hague was meeting farmer Mr Hull whose sheep were left to die on Foulness earlier this month as well as John Jolly, chairman of the National Farmers' Union.

Mr Hull was forced to leave 1,750 sheep stranded on the island after the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food declared Foulness a non-movement zone to halt the spread of foot-and-mouth.

Mr Hull said: "I want William Hague to give us some sort of help in getting Maff to act with common sense."

Mr Hull, of Turncole Farm, in Southminster, is losing thousands of pounds due to foot-and-mouth. Six hundred infected sheep have already been slaughtered at his farm in North Fambridge and he has had to continue to feed animals on his other farms.

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