South Shropshire MP Philip Dunne joined calls for a white paper on the rural economy at the launch of a new report by the All Party Parliamentary Group on Rural Power Station in Parliament on Wednesday.
The report presents a blueprint for economic growth in rural communities, transforming the lives of millions of people who live and work in the countryside. The report makes 27 recommendations on how to close the rural productivity gap, adding a potential £43 billion to UK GVA a year.
The report concludes that no government in recent memory has had a program to unlock the economic and social potential of the countryside and explains how to improve the productivity of rural businesses. The rural economy is currently 18% less productive than the national average. Closing this gap would add £43 billion to the UK economy. Evidence from more than 50 agencies revealed that planning, taxation, connectivity, skills, agricultural policy and lack of ministerial leadership are holding back the rural economy.
Mr Dunne, who chairs the APPG on Rural Services, said:
“It is time to be ambitious for the rural economy. I know rural businesses in South Shropshire have great potential to grow, create jobs and make an even greater contribution to our communities. We need to identify the barriers they face and remove them. This is why I support calls for the announcement of a White Paper on the rural economy in the next Queen’s Speech.
Key policy recommendations for boosting rural productivity include:
- Planning – the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) should prioritize small-scale progressive development in rural areas, particularly those with populations under 3,000, with an emphasis on affordable housing.
- Whitehall- an inter-departmental working group led by the ministry with a specific mandate to develop and implement measures to boost rural productivity should be established, rural protection policy should be reformed and strengthened, and Defra objectives should be reviewed, including rural productivity in its terms of reference.
- Agriculture – to alleviate labor shortages, the pilot project on seasonal workers should be extended and the number of visas available increased from 30,000 to 80,000, and address low prices in supply chains by implementing Farm Bill 2020 regulations to limit the influence of large supermarkets.
- Tax – Simplify the tax system for diversified businesses through the Rural Business Unit (RBU), which would allow rural businesses to make their own decisions, reduce bureaucracy, increase tax collection for the Treasury, and remove barriers to growth of new business ventures.
- Connectivity – DCMS and industry should produce an accessible roadmap for the hardest-to-reach 15% of households, with tangible goals for those left behind.
- Skills – The government should provide vouchers to rural businesses to stimulate demand for business, technical and environmental training, and develop a natural capital skills strategy to identify skills shortages and how to address them.