Sunday, 23 July 2017 21:45

Help unlock rural Britain’s digital potential

Written by  Ruralcity Media
 Help unlock rural Britain’s digital potential

Business owners are being asked to help "unlock" the digital potential of rural Britain.

The request comes at the start of a consultation launched by independent think tank Rural England and Scotland’s Rural College.

It aims to help maximise the potential of the internet and technology to boost the digital economy – and level the urban-rural divide.

The think tank and academic college were commissioned by Amazon to invite rural businesses of all sizes and sectors across the UK to respond to the consultation.

Rural business owners can respond to the consultation by clicking here.

The goal is to help inform new research on how to grow rural Britain’s digital economy.

Responses will be analysed alongside official statistical data, interviews with key stakeholder groups, and economic analysis.

Digital economy

The report aims to understand how to grow the digital economy in rural areas through e-commerce, exports and productivity gains.

It seeks to examine the level of digital skills and capabilities in rural areas and how to further improve them.

Other goals include providing potential policy ideas to drive the growth of the digital economy in rural Britain.

Those behind the study hope to bring together the public and private sector to bring the rural economy into the digital age.

The latest government statistics from the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs show that in 2015/2016,

Some 537,000 businesses were registered in rural areas across England alone, according to the latest Defra statistics for 2015/2016.

Those businesses account for 24% of all registered businesses in England and employ a total of 3.5 million people.

Businesses based in rural areas of England are also overwhelmingly SMEs.

Critical

Rural England chair of directors Brian Wilson said: "The digital economy is critical to the long term prosperity of rural areas.

"Our evidence-based study, working with key stakeholders and rural businesses across the country, will be the first of its kind and we look forward to understanding how to accelerate growth of the digital economy in rural areas."

New research suggests significant potential for the rural economy going digital.

Rural SMEs expect e-commerce revenue to increase by 1.9% over the next 12 months, after it rose by 0.6% over the past year.

The figures are from the SME Growth Tracker, a quarterly report by Capital Economics commissioned by Amazon UK and Enterprise Nation.

This revenue growth was stronger than UK SMEs overall, who expected to grow annual revenues of 1.7% in next 12 months, up from 0.8% over past year.

Essential

Julian Sturdy MP, chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Rural Business Group, said: "Rural businesses make an essential contribution both to our rural communities, and to the wider UK economy."

He added: "It is therefore essential that government and the private sector work together to support rural enterprise, and ensure that the internet and innovative technology can be used to power fast-paced growth."

Amazon country manager Doug Gurr said: "We believe that the digital revolution can create significant growth and job opportunities for the rural economy and bridge the urban-rural divide.

"As long as you have a laptop, internet connection and a great product, you can now be local and sell global.

"We’ve seen thousands of rural businesses do just that through Amazon Marketplace. We welcome and encourage rural businesses of all shapes and sizes from across rural Britain to participate in this important research project.”

The consultation will include qualitative interviews with influential rural organisations, as well as discussions with rural politicians on policy solutions that can deliver a digital rural Britain.

Rural businesses can submit their views to the consultation here until the beginning of September deadline, with a view of the report being published by the end of this year.

People in this conversation

  • Guest (Jane Wright)

    Report

    No point in urging rural businesses to "go digital" when they do not have adequate internet access.

  • Guest (Brian Wilson)

    Report

    If a business feels constrained by slow broadband or mobile infrastructure, the survey gives plenty of opportunity to flag this and its affect on business performance.

    We fully recognise the issue. Latest Ofcom figures show a quarter of premises cannot yet access a 10 Mbps fixed broadband connection. The other 75% may, of course, be benefiting from their connectivity or may face other constraints, such as IT skill levels. Businesses - either way, do let us know via the survey.

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