The latest column from CLA East Acting Regional Director Nick Sandford.
A cross-party group of MPs and Peers recently launched an inquiry that will explore ways to boost the rural economy in a post-Covid world. The inquiry, run by the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Rural Business and the Rural Powerhouse, will explore why rural productivity is 18% below the national average and identify solutions to help bridge the divide.
The inquiry will focus on the following themes including:
- Connectivity – has the government given up on bridging the digital divide?
- Planning – is the planning system fit for purpose for economies and communities in rural areas?
- Land use – how can we better manage the land to meet the demand for environmental & climate delivery and food production?
- Skills – how can we futureproof a rural workforce?
- Tax – does the tax system provide benefits or barriers to rural productivity?
- Government Process – do government structures/mechanisms help or hinder the development of rural policy?
The APPG is currently welcoming written evidence from across the rural economy, and will run oral evidence sessions through the year. Julian Sturdy MP, who will co-chair the inquiry, believes it is critical to "understand why this productivity disparity exists between urban and rural areas, and to explore meaningful ideas for how it can be eradicated".
I would have to agree with him. We must get to this the crux of this issue as closing the rural productivity gap would add £43bn to the economy - creating hundreds of thousands of skilled jobs in communities everywhere. This would be on top of the £261bn the rural economy already contributes to the national economy.
The reasons for the countryside’s lower productivity are complex. Key contributors are poor digital connectivity, an outdated planning systems, unnecessary bureaucracy and decades of underinvestment which have resulted in fewer opportunities for those living in rural areas. But none of these can be improved without political engagement.
Lord Cameron of Dillington, who is co-chair of the APPG, believes “we must find new ways to create jobs and prosperity – ensuring opportunity finds its way into all rural communities”. To this end, it will be important for all those living and working in rural areas to contribute to this inquiry so we can understand what more can be done to grow the rural economy.
Anyone wishing to submit evidence should email firstname.lastname@example.org. The closing date is June 30 2021.
In other news, the long-awaited Environment Bill was back in Parliament at the end of May for Report Stage and Third Reading in the House of Commons.
Through this piece of legislation, the government aims to clean up the country’s air, restore natural habitats and increase biodiversity as well as reducing waste, make better use of resources, and improve management of water resources in a changing climate.
The Bill will also seek to crack down on water companies that discharge sewage into rivers and will include a legally-binding species target for 2030, aiming to halt the decline of nature and to protect British animals, such as red squirrels and hedgehogs.
While there are some areas of concern, including water abstraction and the exclusion of heritage, we support the Bill’s robust framework for environmental governance with long-terms plans and targets. But, for these ambitious targets to be met, the Bill must work hand-in-hand with the Agriculture Act and land management schemes to ensure the environment is well preserved for future generations.
It’s a welcome relief to see the much-delayed Environment Bill return to Parliament – and now the hard work really starts if government is serious about it becoming law this year.