Cath Crowther, Country Land and Business Association (CLA) Regional Director
The East of England is renowned for its beautiful countryside and spectacular scenery but those living and working in rural communities face unique challenges when compared to those in urban conurbations.
This is highlighted in a new report by the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Rural Business and the Rural Powerhouse that has considered the impact of the cost of living crisis in rural areas.
The report, The Rural Premium: exploring the impact of the cost-of-living crisis in rural areas, considers what must be done to support those based in the countryside. The inquiry received written evidence from individuals, rural organisations, charities and business groups, and held oral evidence sessions.
The group focused on four areas, including impact on communities, employment, housing and energy. It highlighted the interconnected nature of the rural economy, and the ripple effect of issues on other areas. For example, insufficient housing means people must travel for employment, but rural transport is often expensive and unreliable. The report recommends a long term housing strategy.
Poor connectivity has also hindered rural businesses from rebounding during the crisis. In the face of decreased footfall, and with only 46% of businesses receiving serviceable 4G coverage, the report highlights how rural businesses have been unable to access new customers or support groups online.
The report challenged the assumption that rural areas are wealthy and can weather the cost of living crisis and economic instability with few adverse effects. This is not the case: Rural communities spend 10-20 per cent more on everyday items compared to their rural counterparts, despite wages being 7.5 per cent lower. Inflation has been running at approximately 10 per cent for consumers but agricultural inflation has been running at 25-30 per cent which leads to pressure on agricultural businesses.
The theme across the reports 12 recommendations is lack of consideration for rural areas in policymaking. The government is supposed to carry out rural proofing when considering new policy decisions to ensure the policy is appropriate or workable for rural areas, but this is often not happening.
The report highlights one example of this, regarding energy support. In October 2022, a support package was announced to help consumers with heating bills for on-grid properties. However, 76% of rural housing is not on the grid. An off-grid support package was not announced until January 2023 – and was not offered at the same level as for conventional users.
More needs to be done to make sure rural policy is made proactively and not as an afterthought, which is a theme which follows through from the APPG’s inquiry in to rural productivity last year.
The CLA continues to work with MPs and peers through the APPG. We are keen to ensure we engage with all politicians on the issues highlighted and the APPG will push this report with appropriate government ministers and host a roundtable on how the recommendations can be taken forward.
Here is the East, I am planning regular meetings and roundtable discussions with MPs to address the points raised. It will be an opportunity for our members to share their views and will allow politicians the opportunity to hear first-hand some of the challenges rural communities are faced with.