Rural Economy Spotlight - December 2018

A quarterly bulletin facilitated by your membership of the Rural Services Network highlighting a selection of current rural economic development news, issues and opportunities

Rural areas need a joined-up approach, post Brexit

Academics at Newcastle University, the University of Cumbria and Northumbria University looked at the implications of Brexit on rural Northumberland and surrounding areas. They concluded that “the increasingly complex governance structure - made up of Combined Authorities, Local Enterprise Partnerships, local authorities and Growth Deals - has led to duplication and the absence of a coherent voice.”

The study captures how “the rural north of England has been lagging behind both the regional and national economy for some time and also highlights how Britain’s rural areas represent a “forgotten opportunity.”

Two important issues are revealed:

  • “while land-based activities are vital, particularly for more remote communities, the economy of the rural areas of the north is highly diverse and the Brexit effects cannot simply be reduced to a narrow range of sectors that are deemed to be ‘rural’
  • “rural areas are interconnected with urban regions across the North, hence the impact of Brexit on the rural north must include consideration of the potential impacts of Brexit on regions of the North, including the metropolitan areas.”

The report contains a detailed analysis of the current state of the rural economy in the region including an in-depth analysis of the key sectors. It goes on to map the drivers for change that will shape the rural economy over the next 10 - 15 years. In the final section the report highlights the possible future scenarios for the rural north of England: one good; one bad. A third scenario is also included which aims to provide the outline of a possible future upon which the research makes recommendations.

Dr Paul Cowie who led the review for Newcastle University’s Centre for Rural Economy, said: “Britain’s departure from the European Union could trigger a spiral of decline unless policymakers confront many of the long-term issues in rural areas. However, it could also provide policymakers with an opportunity to tackle these challenges as a whole so that opportunities aren’t missed, but only if rural areas work towards a shared vision for the North of England and speak with a single, confident voice driven from the bottom-up.”

You can read the full report via this link.

Agriculture Bill completes Committee stage

The Agriculture Bill has completed its committee stage and is due to have its report stage and third reading “on a date to be announced.”

You can keep up to date with the progress of the Bill via this link which also includes a briefing paper, published in October by the House of Commons Library.  This explains: “The Agriculture Bill provides for a range of enabling powers to ensure ‘stability’ for farmers as the UK exits from the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy and compliance with the World Trade Organisation Agreement on Agriculture. It also introduces new measures to change the way in which farmers and land managers are supported in the longer term.”

The paper describes stakeholder reaction as mixed: “Whilst both farming organisations and environmental groups broadly support the new ‘public money for public goods’ approach to future farm support schemes (in England and Wales), there is concern from both groups that there will not be sufficient future funding beyond this Parliament. A lot of stakeholder comment has focussed on whether the Bill has the right balance of measures between incentivising environmental protection and supporting productivity. There has been a notable absence of consumer comment.”

Others have criticised the bill for lack of mention of the wider rural economy, businesses and communities. In a blog reflecting on the draft bill published in September, Professor Janet Dwyer of the Countryside & Community Research Institute at the University of Gloucestershire wonders “Is Defra becoming DEF” and set to lose its future engagement with rural affairs? Professor Dwyer argues of the draft Bill: “it is missing any powers to continue the valuable effort that takes place under the CAP to promote rural development and help rural economies and communities. This effectively cuts Defra’s role in supporting Local Enterprise Partnerships and, perhaps most crucially to rural people, would eliminate LEADER, the locally-focused ‘bottom-up’ rural development approach currently available across rural England.”

Economic Factsheets available by local authority area

To inform and contextualise a local authority area's economic situation, RSN has produced factsheets for every member authority providing a wide range of facts, figures and associated graphs. The factsheets provide rural and urban averages, and averages for the classification of the authority (for example district, unitary or county average). These are incredibly useful and have proved very popular with RSN members. You can access all the factsheets via the RSN website.

Business is booming in Herefordshire

Herefordshire Council write:

Herefordshire is home to over 10,000 blossoming enterprises, 90 per cent of which are ‘micro’ enterprises.   Herefordshire has seen a steady trend of economic growth over recent years, with more businesses starting up in 2015 than in the year prior to the 2008 recession. The year 2015 also marked the third consecutive year in which more businesses started up in the county than closed.

Herefordshire Council puts the needs of business at the heart of its economic development plan, attracting investment to the county of over £30m (2015-2020), which will create thousands of homes and jobs. The economic developments supported by Herefordshire Council include:

  • Development of a new Hereford central business district, meeting increased demand for office space from professional services and creative industries;
  • Working with the University of Wolverhampton to construct a new Cyber Security Centre of Excellence;
  • Continued commitment to the growth of the Hereford Enterprise Zone and investment within the existing Rotherwas industrial estate;
  • Progress of the Model Farm enterprise park at Ross on Wye and encouraging delivery of existing major employment allocations at Three Elms in Hereford, Moreton on Lugg, and the market towns; and
  • Creation of a range of new or refurbished business incubation centres within Ross on Wye, Leominster, Ledbury, Bromyard and Kington.
Herefordshire Growth Hub

The Herefordshire Growth Hub, which is staffed by Herefordshire Council staff, is a free service which coordinates and maximises the range of advice, funding and support available to businesses across the county. The central point of contact for any business in Herefordshire, the business support package addresses the key issues of entrepreneurship, business growth, especially by high growth local businesses and innovation. 

The Herefordshire Growth Hub provides space where business support providers hold clinics and meet with clients, host business networking and best practice events and allow hot-desking facilities for local and national business support providers. 

Rural Development Programme for England (RDPE)

Herefordshire Council has supported local businesses to apply for a share of the £7.5m Rural Development Programme for England funding allocated to the Marches which will support business development, food processing and rural tourism infrastructure aimed at creating jobs and growing Herefordshire’s economy.

RDPE supported the development of the Herefordshire Rural Destination Management Plan. Tourism is a major income generator in the county and Herefordshire projects have benefited from a total grant value of £1.4m to date.

Marches Building Investment Grant

Businesses across Herefordshire looking to extend or reconfigure their buildings and create new jobs can apply for grants of up to £100,000 thanks to a new £2.5m fund. The Marches Building Investment Grant (MBIG) is available for eligible businesses to fund extensions, renovations or reconfigurations of commercial premises across Herefordshire, Shropshire and Telford & Wrekin.  Part-financed by the European Regional Development Fund, the scheme is expected to attract up to £3m in private sector investment in the region and lead to the creation of 130 jobs.

The grant awarded to Edward Bulmer Natural Paints (EBNP), worth over £9,000, has meant a significant expansion to its headquarters in Pembridge, near Leominster. Edward Bulmer Natural Paints became a brand in its own right in 2015 and has grown seven-fold since.  Now boasting a portfolio of 72 paint colours, all derived simply from natural earth and mineral pigments, its eco-credentials, combined with a burgeoning mass-interest in interior design, have allowed EBNP to quickly become a much sough-after premium brand.

Emma and her co-director and husband, Edward, had a redundant barn building on their existing property which lent itself perfectly to be converted in to a dedicated production and packaging facility, freeing up the existing building for use solely as meeting and office space.

AW Trailers, a leading manufacturer of agricultural, commercial and industrial trailers which this year celebrates 25 years in business, has expanded its current manufacturing base in Madley, Herefordshire and created new jobs, thanks to their grant worth almost £58,000. AW Trailers now have a new extension to their existing manufacturing centre to meet increased demand for bigger and more complex trailers.


Herefordshire Council also implements the £2.3 million LEADER programme, which supports rural businesses to grow and expand. The grants support micro and small enterprises, including farm diversification, rural tourism, increasing farm productivity and forestry provision, provision of rural services, and cultural and heritage activities. 

Little Barn Hydrotherapy received £29,000 through the LEADER programme and is now helping dogs return to full fitness. The grant helped to part-fund a small barn conversion. Ruth Punshion said: “Little Barn Hydrotherapy provides fitness or convalescence opportunities for dogs in the county and can help them to manage debilitating physical condition. The LEADER grant was used to part-fund the conversion of our small barn into a professional hydrotherapy centre that I am very proud of!”

For more information on any of the Herefordshire schemes please contact Vinia Abesamis.

Superfast Broadband current situation

The national perspective on broadband roll-out is summarised in a report published in November.

The House of Commons Library has produced a Briefing Paper on the Government’s superfast broadband policy for the UK. It sets out the current situation for superfast broadband access and coverage in all four nations of the UK, and how the roll-out of superfast broadband is being managed and funded. Data and maps on superfast broadband connectivity and speeds are also included.

The paper explains what superfast broadband is, outlines the roll-out programme managed by Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) and the support available to those without superfast broadband.

You can read the report via this link.

East Riding of Yorkshire Rural Partnership celebrates 20 years of making a difference

More than 130 people attended a celebratory event at Bishop Burton College to mark the 20th anniversary of the East Riding of Yorkshire Rural Partnership.

With more than 60% of the population of the East Riding living in rural communities, the council established a rural partnership in 1998 to ensure that the ‘rural voice’ was heard by government and that the needs of people living in the countryside were addressed.

The East Riding of Yorkshire Rural Partnership is described as one of the most enduring forums in the UK, covering economic, social and environmental matters. Members represent organisations from the public, private, voluntary and community sectors. Working together, they inform policy makers, lobby for resources and share knowledge and best practice. The rural partnership has also delivered a rural strategy for the East Riding for the past two decades.

The event at Bishop Burton College, which was hosted by broadcaster Blair Jacobs, saw a range of guest speakers talking on a number of issues including building a rural powerhouse, how important rural businesses, including agriculture, are in the local economy, maximising the potential of the environment and meeting rural housing and service needs.

Sir Ian Macdonald of Sleat, chairman of the East Riding of Yorkshire Rural Partnership, said: “I have been involved with the rural partnership since it started in 1998. As its chairman, my priority has been to bring people together so that we can work jointly to champion rural issues and make sure that the needs of our rural communities are met. Working together in partnership has yielded great results over the last 20 years and means we are better equipped today to meet the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead. We look forward to many more years of this important work.”

Councillor Jane Evison, cabinet portfolio holder for transforming lifestyles at East Riding of Yorkshire Council, said: “The work of the rural partnership over the past two decades has been incredibly significant and has helped champion the priorities of rural communities across the East Riding. Ensuring the sustainability of these towns and villages is important as they are often the home to many small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) which are the lifeblood of the East Riding economy and also for social reasons, we need to make sure that people have homes to live in and that they can access the services they need.”

The Post Office – recent history

A Research Briefing has been published outlining the recent history of the Post Office which is available via this link.

The Briefing states: “The Post Office was separated from Royal Mail in 2012 and is owned by the UK Government. The Post Office has been undergoing a major network transformation programme. The company has been reforming itself in order to become self-sustaining. This has included reducing central costs, increasing revenues, and modernising branches in the network.

“The Post Office reported its first annual profit in sixteen years in 2016/17, reporting a modest profit of £13million. In 2017/18, this increased to £35million. However, Post Office revenue fell by £57million in 2016/17 to £1,037million, and to £1,031million in 2017/18. This was largely the result of the reduction in Government Network Subsidy Payments.

“Between 2010 and 2017, the Government allocated £2 billion to fund the Post Office’s modernisation and transformation programme. In December 2017, the Government agreed a new funding package of £370million for the Post Office to run till 2021. As part of this funding package, the Government Network Subsidy Payment continues to be reduced.

“Modernisation has seen the number of Crown Post Offices, those run directly by the Post Office, decrease in recent years. Some branches have been franchised to partners such as WHSmith. Many non-Crown Post Offices have been converted, moved or modernised into new types of branches. The number of post offices has been relatively stable since 2009, though the overall network size has declined since the 1980s. The Library has a separate briefing on the number of Post Offices over time.”

Broadband Voucher scheme available

The Nationwide Gigabit Broadband Voucher Scheme (GBVS) will provide vouchers worth up to £3000 for a small or medium sized business or £500 to residents to help with the costs of connecting to full fibre broadband.

The scheme is part of a wider government plan to get more homes and businesses connected to full fibre broadband. It builds on the £200 million Local Full Fibre Networks programme which gives funding to local areas to boost full fibre delivery and on trial voucher schemes operated in four parts of the country.

You can read more via this link.

All you want to know about Growth and City Deals

Two papers have been published by the House of Commons Library summarising what has happened with both Local Growth Deals and City Deals. Of particular interest to rural areas is confirmation from the 2018 Budget that the government would commit £120 million toward a growth deal for North Wales, would seek to progress deals for Ayrshire and the Borderlands and open negotiations for deals for Moray and Mid Wales.

You can read the Local Growth Deals paper via this link and the paper regarding City Deals here.

High Street regeneration forms part of proposed planning reforms

The government is consulting on proposals which, it says, are aimed at simplifying and speeding up the planning system, to support the high street, make effective use of land and deliver more homes.

They state: “Building on existing planning reforms, the government is consulting on proposals that will allow greater change of use to support high streets to adapt and diversify, support extending existing buildings upwards to create additional homes, and speed up the delivery of new homes.”

The consultation includes a number of separate proposals including: new and amended permitted development rights and changes to use classes to support the regeneration of the high street and to extend existing buildings upwards to create new homes; and the disposal of surplus local authority land - rationalising and updating the rules which govern disposal of public land at less than best value.

This consultation closes on 14 January 2019 and you can find full details here.

Keep up with what’s happening at the Lords Rural Economy Committee

Following the closure of the call for evidence to the House of Lords Select Committee on the Rural Economy, the Committee has been hearing from a wide range of stakeholders on specific issues and considering information on a range of topics. You can see everything that has been happening, including films of the oral evidence which has been given, by following this link.

The economic and funding impacts of Brexit

What are the ways in which Brexit could affect the economy? And what do studies of the potential impact of Brexit on the economy over the short- and long-term show? A briefing published on 4 December answers these questions and provides summaries of the Government's and Bank of England's economic analyses of Brexit, including the assumptions and scenarios used. You can read the briefing via this link.

A further briefing, published a few days earlier, looks at the funding received by the UK from EU institutions and considers the implications of Brexit on the EU as a source of funding for regional development, agriculture support, research and innovation and other areas. You can access this briefing here.

Statistical digest of rural England published

Official statistics concerning rural England are published regularly by Defra. The latest November 2018 edition of the “Statistical Digest of Rural England” contains a wide range of useful statistics and is available via this link. These cover:

  • Rural population & migration
  • Rural Economy
  • Rural living

Defra’s September 2018 “Rural Economic Bulletin” comparing high level economic indicators across rural and urban England has also been published and is available via this link. The indicators currently used are:

  • claimant count – proportion of working age population claiming unemployment benefits
  • economic activity – proportion of economically active population unemployed and proportion of working age population in employment
  • redundancies – number of redundancies per 1,000 workers
  • house prices - average house prices and annual percent change

Tailored local information for Neighbourhood Planning available

A successful neighbourhood plan must be based on evidence and an understanding of the place they relate to. Communities need to gather a range of evidence and local knowledge before writing their plan. RSN has collated a selection of evidence, which may be useful to communities in starting to shape their evidence base.  This is tailored to each local authority area and is available via this link.

All Party Parliamentary Group – influence in Westminster

The Rural Services APPG supported by RSN provides an excellent opportunity to put issues of the moment in front of MPs in the heart of Westminster and to seek to influence national debate.  If you have any views on key topics which should be covered in future APPGs please contact Andy Dean.

Chambers of Trade – keep calm and sign up!

RSN exists to enable the issues facing the rural areas of England to be identified, information and good practice to be shared and government to be challenged to address the needs and build on the opportunities which abound in rural areas.  We have a number of Chambers of Trade, Commerce and Local Business Networks who are members of RSN and currently receive our bulletins.  If there is a business organisation in your area who you think would find our bulletins useful, please pass this bulletin onto them and ask them to contact Andy Dean with their contact details so we can ensure they are included in future distributions.

Future editions of the Rural Economy Spotlight

The next edition of this bulletin will be distributed in March 2019.  If you have any suggestions as to future content or would like to submit a short article for inclusion please contact Andy Dean.


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