Today I have been watching the Parliamentary debate on Investment in the Rural Community. Whilst I only have had time to watch half of the debate – some interesting points were raised, which I thought would be good to summarise as we watch this space for future developments.
There has been a key emphasis on the lack of high-speed broadband internet in rural areas inhibiting rural enterprise with regards to existing businesses and attracting new investment.
Furthermore, historic policy has often been urban-centric in its focus, meaning rural business impacts have not been given the weighting in decision-making they arguably deserve – particularly as Lord Plumb (Conservative) states that 19% of England and Wales’ GVA is from predominately rural areas.
See below a bullet point summary of the ideas presented during the time I had to watch the debate.
Earl of Shrewsbury & Waterford (Conservative) > opened the debate
• There should be more investment in rural areas – National parks are a great draw for tourism in the UK
• Rural, agricultural industry contributes to our largest exportation industry.
• Rural watch schemes can be very effective in preventing metal theft, fly-tipping etc – however those in rural areas do not all have these schemes (i.e. a neighbourhood watch system) and thus people can live in fear of crime.
• Rural areas have become some of the least affordable areas in the country – it is imperative that the issue of affordable rural housing be addressed immediately.
• Local authorities in rural areas need to be more flexible in their use of business rates.
• Issue of broadband – the rural economy continues to be stifled by the insufficient broadband. One is expected to use an agent at significant additional cost if they are to return forms as most services are now using Internet-based forms. This is an essential service.
Lord Plumb (Conservative)
• Gross Value added from the predominantly rural areas contributed to 19% of England’s GVA, and was worth £211 bn.
• We need more areas for food growth for our growing population.
• The last review of the Common Agricultural Policy was more complicated than ever before – we need to maintain the emphasis on protecting the environment but we need greater freedom to increase production.
• There are 3.7 million people involved in the food and farming industry – the food industry cannot exist without the farming industry.
• There are more businesses per head of population in predominately rural areas than in predominately urban areas.
• In education – we need more skills-based and farming/country side training for young people.
• The Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) will buffer farmers against market challenges.
• There is a need for adequate police protection in rural areas as 38% of farmers have been victims of criminal damage and poaching. Rural theft and its cost are of great significance and should not be under-estimated.
Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville (Lib Dem)
• There is a need for super-fast broadband in order for the rural economy to thrive.
• Somerset county council has committed a further £2 million on top of £10 million to work on this internet access issue – which should be applauded.
• Tourism is a key area of economy in rural areas – The flooding has meant that the rural economy has significantly suffered, not all businesses have recovered. The loss of services has also been an issue for rural persons.
• Online shopping and large supermarkets are damaging rural area based businesses – the loss of local facilities due to online shopping etc. isolates the elderly.
• The lack of affordable housing in rural areas means that young families can no longer afford to live in their local area. There is a huge affordability gap.
• 2.46 million people in England and Wales are out of work (40% of the youth population). Rural communities have problems finding jobs for young people – there is a lack of apprenticeship schemes.
• There are problems with the lack of available transport for the young and elderly in rural areas. The prices of taxis in the countryside are extremely expensive – more so than in rural areas than urban.
Lord Cavendish of Furness (Conservative)
• The Small Business Bill provides better access to procurement activities – which is good for business growth – but there are some things that still need to be solved:
• There is still a major issue in the provision of broadband in rural areas, which is having a huge impact on rural enterprise.
• These barriers to rural growth are deterring investors with these structural weaknesses. (I.e. Internet access).
• Rural residents pay a higher council tax then in urban areas – is this fair? As there are additional costs from living rurally.
• Partnerships promote prosperity and a healthy rural economy – but attracting people is difficult.
• Many large companies are hostile and ruthless in their dealings with SME’s.
Lord Curry of Kirkhale (Crossbencher)
• Strong support of Lord Plums point on farming education for young people.
• Rural, urban and city economies are interdependent. An inclusion policy embracing the needs of rural investment would be highly beneficial as opposed to urban-centric policies – which rural communities have suffered as a result of in the past.
• Agriculture is of high importance in the rural economy, the focus on tourism can place agriculture in the shade, though that said we need a diverse rural economy to create employment and wealth + high-speed broadband and affordable housing.
• Agriculture is the platform from which to build our diverse rural economy. Farmers have housing plots, buildings, near villages – they can be the engines for enterprises.
• We need to go further to ensure than impact assessments taken encompass a greater focus with not just the impact on businesses but also the impact on rural businesses.
• It has been noted that there is difficulty in defining rural economy.
What is your view on the investment in rural economy debate?
Do you think there should be a greater allocation of resources towards any of the points raised above?