The government’s commitment to levelling up is incredibly important, and timely
The countryside and rural communities are a key part of British life – literally fuelling the country with the fantastic food this land produces and contributing more than £120 billion to the national economy.
We would have struggled, especially through the pandemic, without our iconic countryside to escape to and our farmers keeping supermarket shelves full. A recent NFU survey showed that 87% of people said visiting the British countryside during this time had improved their wellbeing, and the value of this can’t be underestimated.
And there is so much more rural Britain can deliver for the nation, from producing more climate-friendly food to improving our health and wellbeing – if it is allowed a place within the government’s levelling up agenda.
To truly level up the country and rural Britain, government departments need to address issues that span across society, geography and policy. One of these issues is broadband provision. Access to sufficient mobile and broadband is key for future growth, yet 60% of NFU members have said their broadband is not sufficient for modern business needs. If rural businesses are to deliver more green growth and jobs and boost the rural and national economy, we need access to this fundamental tool.
Another area that can deliver huge benefits for the country, if granted more accessible funding, are farm diversifications. Around 65% of all farm businesses in England run other enterprises such as farm shops, camp sites, wedding venues and B&Bs. These businesses are extremely valuable to the social fabric of our country as well as the economy, generating more than £740 million in 2019.
And at the heart of many rural limitations is the lack of rural proofing. Rural proofing should ensure that government policy agendas work well for everyone. However, it has only really been implemented in Defra.
Yet people living and working in the countryside also have issues with affordable housing, planning, health, education and transport, so other government departments are just as relevant. That is why we need a dedicated strategy which ensures all government departments consider rural matters from the outset.
If the government is serious about levelling up the country then a revolutionary approach to rural Britain is needed; one which maximises the potential of a community which covers 70% of the country and plays such a core role in our national prosperity – something we can all get behind.
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