STANDING UP FOR RURAL BUSINESSES

Robin Edwards, South East Regional Director

The countryside is buzzing with economic potential but too often the 646,000 rural businesses in England and Wales are overlooked. Sometimes, it feels like we are the Cinderella of the UK economy.

Today (20 January 2016), the CLA is launching a new report to persuade politicians to unlock the potential of the rural economy. ‘Standing up for Rural Businesses’ is being presented by CLA President Ross Murray to the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Rural Businesses in the House of Commons.

The report demonstrates the vital contribution that rural businesses make to the countryside and to the wider economy. It also highlights key issues for rural areas within the current political agenda.

Businesses from all sectors and of all sizes can be found across rural England and Wales. Changes in technology and infrastructure make it possible for businesses based in the heart of our countryside to provide goods and services to customers around the world.

Our vision is that a person setting up or growing a rural business should have the same opportunities as anyone seeking to do so in our towns and cities.

Nonetheless there is something intrinsically different about our rural businesses. This is partly because core sectors, predominantly linked to agriculture and land management, remain of fundamental and unique importance to our countryside. This deep association with the land and a sense of place makes rural businesses think differently. There is also a strong sense of tradition present in how businesses are organised. Family businesses predominate and as result ambitions and plans tend to span generations.

Our ambition for our rural areas is no different to the rest of the economy we want to see investment unlocked, to achieve greater productivity driving growth, the creation of jobs and an improved standard of living across our rural communities. However the challenges are different and we need specific solutions in four priority areas.

Universal service for broadband and mobile

Poor connections are the single biggest barrier to rural businesses achieving their potential. The Prime Minister has listened to our call and set out a commitment to universal broadband service of at least 10 megabits per second by 2020. This universal service obligation is transformational and must be delivered for broadband. We will press for similar concrete commitments on mobile coverage.

A planning system that unlocks investment

In every area, delivering a well thought through Local Plan is the key to unlocking investment and all efforts must be focused on putting this in place. Where there is no Plan or there are development opportunities not foreseen in the Plan, planners must be pro-growth and seek out ways to say yes, only stopping change and stymieing investment where absolutely necessary.

Solving the housing crisis in rural areas

Rural businesses already provide affordable housing, from cottages for retired agricultural workers to private sector housing associations. A new approach to planning must embrace the potential that there is in meeting housing need through converting disused buildings and small scale housing development. We must also look at unlocking the potential of innovative solutions to delivering affordable rural housing, especially by giving councils and landowners the flexibility to agree private sector delivered affordable housing in planning negotiations.

An effective framework for economic development

As devolution agreements are put in place around the country, the needs of rural business and rural communities must be a central consideration. Rural business should be represented in governance of all devolved or local enterprise partnership structures. Priority must be given to effective distribution of investment funds into infrastructure that makes rural businesses more accessible providing skills and training for new and established businesses, and providing marketing support for vitally important industries like English and Welsh tourism.

Successful rural businesses – from food, farming and forestry to tourism, leisure and retail – are the heartbeat that sustains the countryside. The CLA is committed to standing up for rural businesses, and we are taking these messages to politicians in Westminster and also asking them to come and meet with rural business owners across our region.

To find out more about the CLA’s commitment to standing up for rural businesses visit https://www.cla.org.uk/latest/lobbying/standing-rural-business