Rural Economy Spotlight - June 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

House of Lords Committee to investigate the rural economy

In May, the House of Lords appointed an ad hoc Select Committee to consider and report on the Rural Economy.

Chairman of the Committee, Lord Foster of Bath, said:  "There are around 9.4 million people living in rural areas of England whose businesses and services contributed an estimated £229 billion to England’s total economy in 2016.  But the rural economy still suffers from a range of problems, including patchy infrastructure, expensive housing and limited services. The Committee will be exploring how to help support rural economic growth while tackling these issues.

"The voices of those living in rural communities are vital to this inquiry, and the Committee is planning to visit rural areas to learn more about their successes and challenges, and their ideas for the future."

You can follow progress of the committee via this link.

Booking opens for annual Rural Conference

RSN’s annual Rural Conference will take place in Cheltenham on 4 and 5 September 2018. The theme is ‘delivering services differently in rural areas’ with a strong focus on innovation and different approaches. With keynote speeches from Lord Gardiner of Kimble (Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Rural Affairs at Defra) and Professor Tony Travers of the London School of Economics as well as workshops led by Plunkett Foundation and others, the conference promises to be both informative and inspiring.

You can find out more and book a place via this link.

Government responds to NERC act Select Committee findings

In its report published in March 2018, the Select Committee on the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006 concluded that the Government has diminished the resources given to departments and bodies which protect the UK's natural environment and promote the needs of rural communities. The Committee argued that this has had a profound, negative impact on England's biodiversity, environment and the social and economic welfare of rural areas, and must be addressed.

Chairman of the Committee, Lord Cameron of Dillington, said: "It is clear that the Government are failing to take proper account of the needs of rural communities.  Departmental decisions and policies continue to demonstrate a lack of rural understanding among Whitehall policymakers. Each and every Government department should be required to think about the ways in which their policies affect rural people, and the Government must take action to ensure that this 'rural-proofing' of policy happens.

Recommendations included shifting responsibility for rural affairs to the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government and ‘rural proofing’ to the Cabinet Office.

The government formally responded to the report at the end of May. The proposed departmental changes are not accepted. You can read the full response via this link.

Broadband Voucher scheme launched

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.

Rural businesses and agencies should respond to business productivity review

The Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS) has issued a call for evidence to understand how to help improve business productivity. “Raising productivity is one of the government’s key priorities and core to the UK’s Industrial Strategy. As part of the approach to improving the business environment, the Industrial Strategy white paper announced that the government would launch a review of the actions that could be most effective in improving the productivity and growth of small and medium-sized businesses. This review is focused on improving the productivity of businesses with lower productivity, sometimes described as a ‘long tail’ that lags behind the leading firms and underperform relative to domestic and international benchmarks.”

One area the review is keen to investigate is the type of business support which should be available to assist business. Andy Dean, Assistant Director at RSN, said: “It is important that rural businesses are considered as part of this review. The review should recognise the presence of a diverse range of new and existing business activity in rural areas, the opportunities this presents and any bespoke support which may be required.”

This consultation closes on 6 July 2018 and you can read all the details via this link. RSN has provided some initial thoughts on potential responses which you can read here.

Government champion confirmed for Borderlands Growth Deal

The Prime Minister has confirmed John Stevenson MP as the Champion for the English Borderlands councils, working with UK government and local partners to help progress the proposed Growth Deal towards agreement. Details of the appointment can be viewed via this link.

The Borderlands Partnership brings together the five cross-border local authorities of Carlisle City Council, Cumbria County Council, Dumfries and Galloway Council, Northumberland County Council and Scottish Borders Council to promote the economic growth of the area that straddles the Scotland-England border. 

They are working together to focus on ways to make the area more attractive to investors, visitors and those who may wish to come and live here. 

The UK Government in its autumn budget statement promised to work with partners across the border towards a Borderlands Inclusive Growth Deal. Since then work has progressed between the local authorities and both the UK and Scottish Governments to establish the details of this promise.

Key agreed themes are: energy, digital, transport connectivity, business, ‘destination Borderlands,’ quality of place, rural productivity and skills & innovation.

If successful, this will form the first ‘rural’ deal in the country. You can read more about the progress made to date via this link.

Rural authorities respond to LGA Post Brexit England Commission

In March 2018, the Local Government Association (LGA) launched a commission looking at the issues and opportunities facing non-metropolitan areas in England post Brexit. As part of this commission, the LGA issued a call for evidence to feed into the Commission’s interim report, due to be launched at the Local Government Association’s Annual Conference in early July.

A number of RSN members responded to this call with a number of common themes including:

  • A real opportunity exists for the UK to review and adopt a policy for food and farming which regulates and supports the agricultural sector effectively, and which is tailored to the UK’s unique farming landscapes.
  • The agricultural and food sectors are very important but rural economies are very diverse and should not be pigeon holed as just about farming and the environment.
  • Similarly, the prevalence of small businesses and self employment reflects a wide variety of activities including high growth and innovation. A simplistic view of such enterprises as ‘lifestyle businesses’ is incorrect.
  • Small amounts of funding can have a significant impact and funding programmes need to be able to be responsive to such a variety of business activity in terms of sector and business size.
  • There is a requirement for good quality, coordinated business support to make the most of rural economic opportunities.
  • Disappearing European funding, coupled with the continuation of local government cuts, will have a massive impact on the level of support and creation of new assets to promote business growth with subsequent impacts on productivity and job creation.
  • Broadband and digital connectivity is seen as fundamental to economic growth in rural areas.
  • Brexit presents an opportunity to devise policy objectives that better-reflect England’s economic circumstances than the structural funds have allowed. Local decision making, local accountability and local flexibility will be key elements of any successful new programme.

To read more about the LGA commission follow this link.

National Parks review launched

Nearly 70 years after the country’s National Parks were first established, opening up the countryside and allowing more people to connect with nature, an independent panel will look at how these iconic landscapes meet needs in the 21st century – including whether there is scope for the current network of 34 AONBs and 10 National Parks to expand.

The review, led by writer Julian Glover, will also explore how access to these landscapes can be improved, how those who live and work in them can be better supported, and their role in growing the rural economy.

You can read more about this review via this link.

Brexit: next steps of UK’s withdrawal from the EU

You can read Parliament’s analysis of how leaving the EU will affect different policy areas in the UK via this link. This also contains up to date briefings on negotiations, a Brexit glossary and a summary of recent news on exiting the EU from across the Parliament.

Coastal Revival Fund closes soon

The government is inviting bids for a new £1 million Coastal Revival Fund round, which is for grant funding to be spent in 2018 to 2019. Bids of up to £50,000 per project are to be submitted by 5 July 2018.

This Coastal Revival Fund round will support projects to help revive heritage assets that are important to local communities but have not yet reached their full economic potential or are facing neglect. Examples of eligible sites and assets include seafronts and public squares, as well as piers, parks, promenades, lighthouses, lidos, marinas, military structures and so on.

There should be a clear link between what the project aims to achieve and planned future improvements to the asset.

You can read more via this link.

Statistical digest of rural England published

Official statistics concerning rural England are published regularly by Defra. The latest April 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 May 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 four 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

Grant Fund for people returning to work

A Fund of £1.5 million has been made available offering grants to projects which help people to return to work in the private sector. These projects could help returners update their skills, provide other training, or support businesses to increase employment opportunities for returners.

The Fund is available for organisations to run projects aimed at returners that:

  • create new job opportunities within the private sector and targeted employment sectors that have a weaker track record in catering for returners, including, retail; law; tech and telecoms; science, technology, engineering and maths industries; creative industries;
  • could not otherwise be established by the market;
  • address specific barriers for returners and can be replicated at scale;
  • can demonstrate self-sustainability beyond the initial funding period of the grant;
  • increase understanding of how best to support a) returners to gain paid employment and b) employers to recruit and support returners.

It is anticipated that most of the grant recipients under the Returners Fund will be voluntary and community sector organisations, social enterprises and training providers.  Approximately 15-18 projects will be selected in total. There will be two funding rounds. Expressions of interest for the first round of bidding must be submitted by 16 August 2018. Further details are available here.

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.

A monthly pocket databank from the Treasury

The 'Pocket databank' is a monthly HM Treasury statistical publication, containing major economic indicators and series for both domestic and international economies.  The databank, designed to be a quick and concise reference source, can be accessed here.

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 September 2018.  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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