“This White Paper was billed as a programme for economic growth in areas of Wales and England needing further investment – but it is nothing of the sort. Rural communities desperately need an ambitious and robust plan to create jobs, share prosperity and strengthen communities, but in this case, the Westminster Government has failed to deliver it.
Much of Wales’ funding is devolved, but in this case, investment comes direct from Westminster. The Welsh Government does not play a part the distribution of the Levelling Up Fund, and has itself been critical of the process.
“Rural voters put their faith in this government, but this White Paper suggests that the UK 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 UK economy. Meanwhile, Government’s own report shows that for those living and working in the countryside, earnings are lower, housing is more expensive and there is less investment in essential infrastructure than in urban communities.
Mr Tufnell added:
“People want a good job and an affordable home which is well-connected, but these can be difficult to come by in rural areas.
“Too often 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 immense potential of the countryside.”
Policies favoured by the Country Land and Business Association include:
- Creating a planning regime that allows responsible rural development and disused buildings to be converted into modern work and living spaces
- 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 the UK’s Defra department alone does not have the policy levers necessary to make a meaningful difference. The Levelling Up agenda needs to include a cross-Government and 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.”