The All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on the Rural Powerhouse has released a report on how to upgrade the rural economy.
It follows one of the most comprehensive inquiries ever by a parliamentary body into his health.
Testimonials from over 50 organizations
The APPG collected testimonials from more than 50 industry bodies, charities, campaign groups, businesses, academics and business leaders.
The report concludes that no government in recent memory has had a program to unlock the economic and social potential of the countryside.
As a result, the rural economy is 18% less productive than the national average – a gap which, if reduced, could add £43billion to the UK economy.
The report’s findings included:
- A broken planning system has failed those who live and work in rural areas.
- Defra lacks the political levers to bring about meaningful change in the rural economy.
- Lack of skills is causing a rapid “brain drain” in rural areas.
- Urgent action is needed to address labor shortages and supermarket pricing powers.
- The government is renouncing its commitments to provide full fiber and 4G to all.
- The tax system discourages investment and business diversification.
Robust: lays out a comprehensive growth plan
Julian Sturdy, co-chair of the APPG on Rural Business and the Rural Powerhouse and MP for York Outer, said:
“This report lays out a comprehensive growth plan that will create jobs, expand opportunities and strengthen small towns and villages across the country.
“We recognize the unique set of challenges the government is currently facing, but that makes the need to develop and strengthen the rural economy more important, not less important.”
Dillington: an economic model
APPG on Rural Business and the Rural Powerhouse co-chair, Lord Cameron of Dillington, said:
“It is vital that the government understands that rural Britain is not a museum, but rather an important part of the national economy which deserves a chance to succeed.
“The report provides an economic blueprint that will help any government seize the capabilities of the countryside and create the long-term economic growth needed to stimulate/enrich/strengthen our rural communities – in a cost effective and timely manner.”
Tufnell: Can no longer afford to ignore potential of rural economy
Mark Tufnell, President of the Country Land and Business Association (CLA), which represents thousands of farmers, landowners and rural businesses, said:
“The country can no longer afford to ignore the potential of the rural economy and the prospects of the millions of people who live there. Rural businesses are poised to grow, creating good jobs and opportunities for people from all walks of life, but lack of government interest is holding them back.
“Houses are often unaffordable for local families. Well-paying jobs can be rare. And broadband can be extremely slow. All of this leads to an exodus of talent who are too often forced to move to more urban areas.
Omissions in the Leveling Up White Paper
The report’s findings were further compounded by the launch of the government’s white paper, Leveling Up, which made no mention of creating prosperity and economic growth in rural communities and did not include any specific policies to create it.
The British government’s lack of ambition leaves it facing political consequences.
Changing political voting habits
A recent poll commissioned by the CLA highlighted changing political voting habits in rural areas. In previous general elections, 46% of correspondents had voted Conservative.
Voters’ intention is now 36% Labor and 38% Conservative, representing a change of 7.5%. The two parties are now neck and neck before the local elections.
The APPG report is intended to serve as an economic model for the campaign. Recognizing the impact of the pandemic on the country’s finances, most of the recommendations are low-cost, requiring only a change in policy – and, in many cases, a change in how the government thinks about campaigning.
Key reforms needed
Key policy reforms to boost rural productivity include:
- Planning – the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) should prioritize progressive small-scale development in rural areas, especially those with populations under 3,000, with an emphasis on affordable housing.
- Whitehall- an inter-ministerial and inter-departmental working group with the specific mission of developing and implementing measures to boost rural productivity must be set up, the rural protection policy must be reformed and strengthened and the objectives of Defra must be reviewed, with rural productivity now included 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 the industry must produce an accessible roadmap for the hardest-to-reach 15% of homes, with tangible goals for those who remain.
- 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.
News shared by Michael on behalf of Country Land and Business Association. Ed