The Country Land and Business Association (CLA) in the Midlands has welcomed the publication today (27 April 2022) of Levelling up the Rural Economy: an inquiry into rural productivity by the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on the Rural Powerhouse.
It follows one of the most comprehensive inquiries ever conducted by a parliamentary body into the health of the rural economy, with the APPG taking evidence from over 50 industry bodies, charities, campaign groups, companies, academics, and business leaders.
The report concluded that no government in recent memory has had a program to unlock the economic and social potential of the countryside.
This has resulted in the rural economy becoming 18% less productive than the national average. A gap that, if reduced, could add £43bn to the UK economy.
Findings from the report included:
- a broken planning system has failed those who live and work in rural areas,
- Defra lacks the policy levers necessary to make a significant change to the rural economy,
- lack of skills provision is causing rapid ‘brain drain’ in rural areas,
- urgent action is required to address labour shortages and supermarkets’ price-setting powers,
- government is backing away from commitments to provide everyone with full-fibre and 4G and (6) the tax system disincentivises business investment and diversification
This report provides more evidence that the country can no longer afford to ignore the potential of the rural economy and the prospects of the millions who live within it. Rural businesses are ready to thrive, creating good jobs and opportunities for people from all walks of life. “However, a lack of interest from government is holding them back. The Government’s own Levelling Up white paper made no mention of creating prosperity and economic growth in rural communities and did not include any specific policies to create it.
The APPG report is intended to serve as a realistic economic blueprint for the countryside, with most of the recommendations low-cost, requiring only a change in policy – and, in many cases, a change in how the government thinks about the countryside.
Key policy reforms to boost rural productivity include:
- Planning – the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) must prioritise small-scale, incremental development in rural areas, particularly those with populations under 3,000, with a focus on affordable housing.
- Whitehall – a ministerial-led, cross-departmental working group with the specific mission of developing and implementing measures to boost rural productivity must be established, the rural proofing policy must be reformed and strengthened, and Defra's objectives must be re-examined, with rural productivity now included in its remit.
- Farming – to alleviate labour shortages, the Seasonal Workers Pilot should be extended and the number of visas available increased from 30,000 to 80,000, and address low pricing in supply chains by implementing the Agriculture Act 2020's regulations to limit the influence of major 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 Exchequer, and would remove hurdles to the growth of new business ventures.
- Connectivity – DCMS and the industry must produce an accessible roadmap for the 15% hardest-to-reach houses, with tangible targets for those left behind.
- Skills – the government must provide vouchers for rural enterprises to stimulate demand for business, technical, and environmental training, and build a natural capital skills strategy to identify skills shortages and how to close them.