Poor broadband hinders resilience among rural businesses says new survey

Lack of quality broadband in rural areas is affecting businesses’ ability to be resilient and bounce back from adversity, according to a major new report which the CLA contributed to
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Last month, the publication of ‘Levelling up the rural economy: an inquiry into rural productivity’ by the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Rural Business and the Rural Powerhouse, contained evidence on rural connectivity from NICRE and the CLA. The report outlined that the urgency of improving infrastructure – particularly the delivery of full-fibre broadband - cannot be overstated.

A new survey from NICRE published today, shows that around a third of rural enterprises in the North East, South West and West Midlands, compared to a fifth of urban firms, judged their broadband quality to be ‘poor’ or ‘very poor’, with the findings illustrating the vital importance of broadband quality to business resilience during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Rural businesses were also twice as likely than urban firms to rate their transport infrastructure as ‘poor’ or ‘very poor’ with almost six out of 10 having the same perceptions of public transport, compared to 21% of urban firms.

With similarly much lower ratings from rural businesses than urban for the availability of affordable housing and provision of basic services, NICRE’s evidence highlights the importance of addressing the full breadth of rural infrastructure deficits in the Levelling Up agenda.

While our findings demonstrate clear differences in experiences between rural and urban firms, this is not the full picture. Considering variations within rural areas is as important as rural and urban comparisons in understanding the experiences of rural enterprises to develop policies that will truly Level Up Britain.

Professor Stephen Roper, NICRE co-director

NICRE co-director Stephen Roper is Professor of Enterprise at Warwick Business School and Director of the Enterprise Research Centre, which led the report and is one of NICRE’s founding university partners.

Commenting on the report, Professor Roper said: “While evidence shows that access to a range of infrastructures and external resources can improve business outcomes and increase the ability of a firm to adapt and bounce back from adversity, little was known about the link between infrastructure and resilience before our survey.”

“Our significant results indicating a positive relationship between broadband quality and firm resilience during the Covid-19 pandemic are particularly important to the Levelling Up agenda, when viewed alongside the issues with access to, and quality of, broadband in rural areas. Together they present a strong case for policy intervention to overcome the barriers preventing comprehensive high-quality broadband in rural areas, given its presence is likely to enhance resilience and, in turn, productivity growth of rural firms.

“While our findings demonstrate clear differences in experiences between rural and urban firms, this is not the full picture. Considering variations within rural areas is as important as rural and urban comparisons in understanding the experiences of rural enterprises to develop policies that will truly Level Up Britain.”

The findings of the report reaffirm our view that effective, reliable, and affordable broadband is fundamental to the success of rural business.

Mark Tufnell, CLA President

The NICRE report has been welcomed by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the CLA and Rural England. Mark Tufnell, President of the CLA, supported the survey results and reiterated that more still needs to be done: “The findings of the report reaffirm our view that effective, reliable, and affordable broadband is fundamental to the success of rural business. Whilst it is recognised that significant progress has been made regarding the wider deployment of digital connectivity over the last decade, there remains a substantial rural-urban digital divide and it is essential that this is resolved as soon as possible.”

“The rural economy generates some £260bn gross value added (GVA) per year but rural areas are still 18% less productive than the national average. But if we can remove the barriers to rural economic growth, that include digital connectivity, lack of rural affordable housing and a planning system that is not fit for purpose, then we can begin to properly level up between rural and urban areas.”

Key contact:

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William Hanley CLA National Communications Manager