Government’s levelling up plans “fail to deliver for rural communities”

While the Levelling Up white paper promises a complete ‘system change’ of how government works, it suggests the government doesn’t understand rural voters or their needs, says CLA

The UK Government has failed to deliver an ambitious and robust plan to create jobs, strengthen communities and share prosperity in the countryside, says the Country Land & Business Association (CLA) in response to the Levelling Up white paper.

Billed as a “new way of making and implementing policy”, the white paper sets out 12 national missions to achieve a complete ‘system change’ of how government works. These missions will be set out in law in a Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill.

The cross-government missions include increasing pay, employment and productivity in all areas of the UK, increasing public investment in research and development by at least 40% across the North, Midlands, South West, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, increasing the number of people completing high-quality skills training, bring the rest of the country’s public transport to London standards and provide access to 5G broadband for the “large majority” of households. Another mission also promises to give every part of England that wants it a ‘London-style’ devolution deal, including decentralising the £2.6bn UK Shared Prosperity Fund as far as possible to local leaders.

The government will have a statutory duty to compile a public annual report to provide an update on the progress of these missions. A new Levelling Up Advisory Council will provide further support and analysis.

CLA President Mark Tufnell said: “This white paper was billed as a programme for economic growth in left behind areas – but it is nothing of the sort. Rural communities desperately needed an ambitious and robust plan to create jobs, share prosperity and strengthen communities, but Government has failed to deliver it.

Rural voters put their faith in this government, but this white paper suggests that government doesn’t understand them, their needs or their aspirations.

The rural economy is 18% less productive than the national average. Reducing this gap could add up to £43bn to the national economy. Meanwhile, the government’s own report shows that for those living and working in the countryside, earnings are lower and housing is more expensive than in urban communities.

Mr Tufnell added:

“People just want a good job and an affordable home, but both can be difficult to come by in rural areas. They were relying on the Government’s levelling up agenda to recognise the potential of the rural economy, to give them a shot at building a good life for themselves in their own community. But as far as we can tell those developing the ‘levelling up’ concept never even tried.

“Too often the government treats the countryside as a museum, erring on the side of no development and low investment. But we desperately need policies designed to unlock the potential of the countryside.”

Policies favoured by the Country Land and Business Association include:

  • Creating a planning regime that allows disused buildings to be converted into modern workspaces
  • Allowing sensible, small scale housing developments to breathe new life into rural communities
  • Simplifying the tax system to encourage business diversification
  • Making the current 12.5% VAT rate for tourism businesses permanent to bring the UK in line with European holiday destinations
  • Speeding up the delivery of gigabit broadband and 4G for all rural communities

Mr Tufnell concluded:

“The lack of rural focus from government is largely down to the fact that Defra alone does not have the policy levers necessary to make a meaningful difference. The Levelling Up agenda needs to include a cross-departmental effort to deliver policies that will create economic growth in rural areas.

It isn’t too late. We call on government to listen carefully to the ambitions of rural businesses and the communities they support. We are ready and raring to go, and want to work with ministers to create prosperity across the countryside."

Levelling Up the United Kingdom

Rural Powerhouse: Levelling Up

CLA's proposed policy measures to unleash the potential of the rural economy