Rural Economy Spotlight - June 2019

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

Call for a National Rural Strategy gains momentum

The Rural Services Network believes that the government should take the lead and work with interested organisations to produce a comprehensive long term and funded Rural Strategy – and the Lords select Committee on the Rural Economy agrees.

In publishing their long-awaited report entitled ‘Time for a Strategy for the Rural Economy’ Chair of the Committee, Lord Foster of Bath, said: "Rural communities and the economies in them have been ignored and underrated for too long. We must act now to reverse this trend, but we can no longer allow the clear inequalities between the urban and rural to continue unchecked. A rural strategy would address challenges and realise potential in struggling and under-performing areas and allow vibrant and thriving areas to develop further. Doing nothing is not an option.”

RSN have developed a Template Rural Strategy which sets out the rationale for calling for such a strategy including the following component parts:

  • A Thriving Rural Economy
  • A Digitally connected countryside
  • A Place everyone can get around
  • An Affordable Place to live
  • A fair deal on health and social care
  • A Place to learn and grow
  • A settlement (including fair funding for rural services) to support local action
  • A rural proofed policy framework

RSN is asking as many organisations and individuals as possible to join the call on Government to produce a Rural Strategy to set out their priorities for England’s Rural Communities and the Rural Economy for the future.

In conjunction with other partners, RSN is organising a series of regional events to discuss the potential of a Rural Strategy further and give the opportunity for as many stakeholders as possible to take part in the debate. If you would like to find out more, read the Template Rural Strategy and sign up to the call please follow this link.

Home Working a real force in rural areas

Of the 27 million people in work in England in 2018, almost 4 million were home workers (those who usually spend at least half of their work time using their home, either within their grounds or in different places or using it as a base). This equates to 21% of the workforce in rural areas compared to 13% in urban areas.

In rural hamlets and dispersed areas this rises to 33%. These are the findings of a report published by Defra.

 % Home Workers 2018:
Rural town & fringe
Rural villages
Rural hamlets & dispersed


According to the Office for National Statistics, home workers are more likely to be working in higher skilled roles and earn on average a higher hourly wage, although this will vary across rural areas.

You can read the full report here.

Unleash Rural Economies to benefit everyone

The Economist Intelligence Unit has used a scenario model to demonstrate that promoting rural development has the potential to unlock trillions of dollars of annual rural output and rural GDP across the globe.

“Rural economic development holds the key to ensuring that the nutritional needs of a growing global population are met, and poverty in rural areas is eased, narrowing the gaps between rural and urban populations. By promoting rural development, governments not only have significant scope to unlock economic growth, they also have the potential to change fundamentally the structure of the economy.”

In a report published earlier this year, the Unit point to a number of obstacles which stand in the way of stronger rural economic growth. The report focuses on six countries – Angola, Argentina, China, France, India and Nigeria – and highlights some key barriers related to:

  • Policy
  • Land rights
  • Operational infrastructure
  • Social infrastructure

In the report, the Economist Intelligence Unit argue: “Policymakers have tended to overlook rural development as a critical part of overall economic and social wellbeing” and conclude that “reforms aimed at promoting rural development are significant, because a strong rural economy, in itself, has the potential to add balance to, and, indeed, to bolster overall economic growth.”

You can read the full report via this link.

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.

Digital Connectivity Portal for local authorities

The Digital Connectivity Portal has been developed by the Department for Culture, Media & Sport as an online resource for local authorities and communications network providers with guidance on how to encourage investment in fibre and mobile networks at the local level. The portal was launched in January 2019.

The Portal provides practical guidance on areas such as: digital infrastructure strategies, enabling the use of local authority assets for network deployment, access agreements, considerations for the local planning authority, and street works. It will be updated periodically as new laws, regulations and examples of best practice develop.

You can access the portal here.

Business support available in Devon & Somerset

A number of programmes are currently being promoted in the south west. Susanna Jones from Devon County Council writes:

“Businesses who meet eligibility criteria can benefit from free business support and advice from the ERDF-funded Growth Support Programme. Devon and Somerset businesses wishing to grow or expand are offered an initial 3-hour diagnostic with an experienced business advisor. If a need for further support is identified, businesses will be offered the opportunity to commit to a further 9-hour support package, from a variety of topics including: Digital Marketing; Innovation; Finance; HR; Business Planning. Support is provided through a mixture of 1-2-1 sessions and group workshops.” You can register online via this link.

A second programme is ‘Enhance Social Enterprise’ which offers a minimum of 12 hours fully funded business support and advice to social enterprises in Somerset and Devon. Social entrepreneurs receive tailored business support on themes including business growth, digital transformation, measuring social impact, governance, leadership and financial sustainability. For more information and to register follow this link.

Two Digital Leadership Programmes are being run in Somerset in July aimed at people in leadership roles in established social enterprises/charities who need to understand how the cloud and digital can be used to improve efficiency, measure social impact and stimulate growth.

  •  West Somerset: Starting 2nd July
  • South Somerset: Starting 1st July

For more information and to register for one of these events click here.

An additional programme available is ‘Buy With Confidence.’ This is a business approval scheme run by Trading Standards, open to every business, that offers support for small businesses and consumer reassurance. Benefits include:

  • A listing on the Buy With Confidence website, where consumers can look for Trading Standards Approved businesses in their area
  • Use of the approved logo for promotion
  • Invitations to networking and training events to help grow your business
  • Access to free trading standards advice which is otherwise payable at £80 per hour
  • Free mediation service only available to members
  • Promotional materials such as feedback cards, vehicle stickers and a certificate of membership

Anyone interested can apply online via this link.

Anyone interested in discussing the programmes available should contact Susanna.  

Heritage funding available for high streets

In May 2019, Historic England launched a new £44 million fund which will allow them to work with partners to find new ways to champion and revive historic high streets through the High Streets Heritage Action Zones scheme.

Local authorities can apply to the scheme, which will give councils, businesses and community groups access to expert advice and investment to bring historic buildings back into use and support historic high streets to adapt to the challenges they face.

This aims to provide a four-year programme of physical improvements, community engagement and cultural activities to regenerate England’s struggling historic high streets and town centres around the country.

The deadline for expressions of interest is 12 July 2019 and you can find out more here.

Additional funding will be available for individual buildings from late June 2019 from the Architectural Heritage Fund. You can read more about this funding here.

Workshops to help define Rural Connected Communities project

The Department for Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS), working with UK5G, is running five UK-wide workshops in June 2019 to help define the new Rural Connected Communities (RCC) project.

As part of the 5GTT Programme, DCMS is designing the new Rural Connected Communities (RCC) project, with the aim of building the business case for rural mobile connectivity (including 5G) by:

  • Identifying and testing demand-led coverage models;
  • Testing a range of innovative technical solutions and commercial approaches; and
  • Building and proving demand through new 5G use cases.

Participants will be updated on the latest thinking on RCC project design and will be encouraged both to provide their own insights, and to meet potential partners.

The workshops will be taking place as follows:

17th June : Perth, Scotland

19th June : Newport, Wales

21st June : Penrith

24th June : Belfast

26th June: Oxford

To register an interest in attending a workshop, please click on the links above. For more information, please click here.

Extra funding announced for Rural Gigabit connections

Full fibre broadband connections offer the fastest and most reliable speeds available and, as part of the government commitment to a vision of a full fibre Britain, in March 2018 they announced the £67m Gigabit Broadband Voucher Scheme. 

Gigabit vouchers can be used by small businesses and the local communities surrounding them to contribute to the installation cost of a gigabit-capable connection. Businesses can claim up to £2,500 against the cost of connection either individually or as part of a group project. Residents can benefit from the scheme with a voucher worth £500 as part of a group project. 

From May 2019, premises in the harder-to-reach places in the UK may be eligible for additional funding.

As part of the Government’s Rural Gigabit Connectivity programme business and residents in some of the hardest-to-reach places in the UK are eligible for additional funding towards the cost of installing gigabit-capable broadband to their premises when part of a group project.

Rural premises with broadband speeds of less than 30Mbps can use vouchers worth up to £3,500 for each small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs), and up to £1,500 per residential premise. to support the cost of installing new gigabit-capable connections. This is subject to the eligibility rules.

You can read more here.

Calling all rural LEPs

Local Enterprise Partnerships with a strong interest in rural businesses and rural communities are being urged to join the Rural Services Partnership (RSP).

RSP is a long-standing not-for-profit membership company Limited by Guarantee and is a component of the Rural Services Network (RSN).  The RSP is the non-local government part of the RSN and works predominately with both private and third sector service providers in rural England. Working closely with the RSN’s local authority members, the RSP lobbies for a fair deal for rural communities to maintain and enhance their social and economic wellbeing and viability.

Services available for members of the RSP include:

  • Rural Bulletin – a weekly bulletin of topical issues affecting rural England, including: health, transport, youth, older people, housing and economy. The Bulletin reaches over 25,000 recipients each week, including over 140 local authorities.
  • National rural campaigning on a range of critical issues and consultations.
  • Annual Rural Conference and regional rural seminars – an opportunity to share good practice and discuss current issues.
  • Rural Funding Digest – a monthly round up of grant and funding opportunities for rural organisations.
  • State of Rural Services Report – a biennial report prepared by Rural England, Community Interest Company, presenting the most recent evidence and trends regarding the provision of a range of services in rural England.
  • Rural Observatory – the Observatory opens the window to a statistical review of rural life. It provides an analysis and commentary on the key services provisions and issues affecting rural communities utilising publicly available statistics. A very useful source of data to inform funding bids and lobbying campaigns.

RSP is keen to attract more LEPs to take advantage of the offer and contribute to the rural economy debate. Any LEPs interested in finding out more should contact Jon Turner of RSN.

Short inquiry underway into delivery of digital connectivity in rural areas

Broadband, mobile infrastructure and access to digital services remain a central issue for rural communities.

The House of Commons Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (EFRA) Committee is holding a short inquiry, following up on its 2014-15 inquiry into rural broadband and digital-only services to examine the government’s current proposals and delivery of digital connectivity to rural areas.

The deadline for submissions to this inquiry is 24 June 2019 and you can find out more via this link.

Statistical digest of rural England published

Official statistics concerning rural England are published regularly by Defra. The latest link. These cover:

  • Rural population & migration
  • Rural Economy
  • Rural living

Defra’s April 2019 “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 September 2019.  If you have any suggestions as to future content or would like to submit a short article for inclusion please contact Andy Dean.


Sign up to our newsletter to receive all the latest news and updates.