Rural Economy Spotlight - June 2023

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

Government commits to ‘Unleashing Rural Opportunity’

On 6th June, Government launched a new document setting out initiatives “to unleash rural opportunity so that those living and working in rural communities can thrive.”

The document is based on 4 broad priorities that government believe are key for rural areas to thrive:

  • Growing the rural economy – “we will support rural areas so they can prosper, including by boosting opportunity through jobs and skills.”
  • Connectivity – “we will continue to deliver gigabit broadband and mobile coverage in rural areas and increase access to public transport.”
  • Home energy – “we will facilitate the building of more homes for local people to buy where local communities want them, powered by secure and resilient energy supplies.”
  • Communities – “we want rural communities to continue to be places where people want to live and work. We will improve access to high quality health and social care and take further action to tackle rural crime.”

Specific initiatives announced in the document include a new £7 million fund which: “will test out new ways to bring together satellite, wireless and fixed line internet connectivity, helping support farmers and tourism businesses to access lightning fast, reliable connectivity in remote areas for the first time.”

The document announces the preparation of a ‘Future of Transport Rural Strategy’ and a review of how deprivation in rural areas is measured “so that it is better understood and taken into account in decision making – ensuring the interests of rural communities are better represented.”

£2.5 million funding will be available to create a network of new ‘Rural Housing Enablers,’ and government also state they will: “support electricity infrastructure in rural areas, making sure it keeps up with the changing needs of consumers.”

You can read the full document at the following link:
Unleashing rural opportunity - GOV.UK (

Rural England statistical digest overhauled

The Statistical Digest of Rural England is a collection of statistics on a range of social and economic topics and provides broad comparisons between Rural and Urban areas by settlement type.

Prepared by DEFRA, the Digest has recently been restructured into thematic reports and incorporates the previously separate publication the Rural Economic Bulletin.

The Digest consists of the following thematic reports:

  • Population
  • Housing
  • Health and Wellbeing
  • Communities and Households
  • Connectivity and Accessibility
  • Education, Qualifications and Training
  • Rural Economic Bulletin

The Digest was last updated at the end of April 2023. You can access all the contents at the following link:
About the Digest and Rural Definitions - GOV.UK (

Local Government Capacity Centre summer learning programme opens

Designed for local authorities and their partners, Homes England are inviting bookings for their Summer Learning Programme. This offers 14 free knowledge-sharing webinars to support the development of housing and regeneration in line with their new Strategic Plan.

These knowledge-sharing sessions, taking place from 10 to 20 July 2023, are from Homes England and the Department of Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, with contributions from a range of public and private-sector partners.

You can view the full range of topics covered and sessions available at the following link:
Explore housing development learning events for local government - GOV.UK (

Rural Connectivity Champion appointed

Following the launch of the government’s Rural Statement, the government has also announced the appointment of Simon Fell MP as the UK’s first Rural Connectivity Champion.

Taking up the role which was announced as part of the Wireless Infrastructure Strategy earlier this year, government state that Mr Fell “will support rural businesses to access and adopt the digital connectivity they need to encourage commercial investment in 5G and support economic growth.

“The Champion will convene rural businesses and the telecoms industry to support adoption of digital connectivity in sectors such as agriculture and develop, in partnership with rural businesses, a clear understanding of what connectivity is needed to drive innovation and growth up and down the country.”

You can read more on this appointment at the following link:
First Rural Connectivity Champion announced to help drive growth - GOV.UK (

Shaping the future of England's strategic roads

Government is consulting on the set of proposals made in National Highways’ Initial Report.

England’s roads carry 88% of all passenger miles and 79% of all freight moved and the strategic road network – the motorways and principal A roads operated by National Highways – are a key element.

The report outlines National Highways’:

  • view on the current state of the strategic road network (SRN)
  • potential future needs
  • proposed priorities for the next road period (RP3), covering the financial years 2025-26 to 2029-30

RSN 2023 seminar programme

You can book a place on three further RSN seminars throughout 2023.

The established successful seminar programme goes from strength to strength each year having moved online during Covid.

In 2022, over 630 delegates attended our seminars throughout the year, with over 240 organisations represented. That is a total of 1260 hours spent by members of the Rural Services Network listening to expert speakers, learning from best practice and networking with other rural colleagues. Time well spent!

Following five excellent seminars so far during 2023, seminars over the coming months focus on key topics of rural interest:

  • Rural Affordable Housing
  • Rural Planning
  • Rural Health and Care

Seminars are free to members of the RSN as part of their membership package.  You can book your place now at one or more of these seminars at this link.

What’s more, our seminars in 2022 often featured member organisations sharing their projects and expertise, if you would like to feature at an upcoming seminar please contact for more information.

A portal for rural innovation

The National Innovation Centre for Rural Enterprise (NICRE) seeks “to put knowledge to work for an enterprising countryside – combining research with practical innovation to find new ways of unlocking potential and supporting thriving rural businesses and communities.”

As part of their work, NICRE has established an ‘Innovation Portal’ where they will share case studies of businesses, organisations and communities and resources on particular topics.

The portal has begun with information relating to activities on:

  • The future of work
  • E-cargo bikes
  • Resilience toolkit for rural business leaders
  • Rural enterprise hubs

More will be added to the portal over time, and you can take a look at the following link:
Innovation portal - NICRE

Rural households left feeling isolated by the cost-of-living crisis

A survey of rural households published recently by RSN, shows that more than 75% of respondents say that their financial situation has got worse over the last year. RSN conducted the survey with the Rural Issues Group of Citizens Advice to better gauge the impact of the cost-of-living crisis on households in rural areas across England.

Amongst the findings, the survey showed:

  • After paying for essentials, a fifth of respondents live either in households with no income left over for other things, or in households where the essentials alone exceed their income. These essentials included rent or mortgage, food and drink, essential car or travel costs and childcare.
  • Rural residents are cutting back on spending across the board and this is especially true for low-income households where notable examples are reduced spending on home heating (90%) and visits to hospitality venues (91% of such households).

The survey followed initial research commissioned by the RSN last year, (Rural Cost of Living Emergency) which found that rural communities were facing a triple blow in the cost of living crisis, as higher domestic and transport energy poverty, coupled with lower wages, pushes rural areas into a cost of living emergency.

You can read more and access the full survey report at the following link:
Rural households left feeling isolated by the cost of living crisis - Rural Services Network (

Grants to install electric vehicle charging points at the workplace

The government’s Workplace Charging Scheme (WCS) is a voucher-based scheme that provides support towards the up-front costs of the purchase and installation of electric vehicle (EV) charge-points, for eligible businesses, charities and public sector organisations.

The grant covers up to 75% of the total costs of the purchase and installation of EV charge points (inclusive of VAT), capped at a maximum of:

  • £350 per socket
  • 40 sockets across all sites per applicant – for instance, if you would like to install them in 40 sites, you will have 1 socket available per site

More information including application forms are available via this link.

Rural community businesses make an impact

The Plunkett Foundation is the only organisation supporting rural community-owned businesses at every stage of their journey in all four UK nations. It recently released its Impact Report 2022, detailing its successes and achievements over the year and vision for the future.

Chris Cowcher, Head of Policy and Communications at the Plunkett Foundation, writes “in spite of the cost of living and energy price crises, and the lingering effects of the pandemic, our report shows that an impressive 23 new community-owned businesses opened last year. This brings the total of businesses now trading nationwide to nearly 750, which includes 413 community shops, 164 community pubs, 59 land-based businesses plus an interesting mix of bakeries, bookshops, distillery's, woodlands and farms.

“The 23 businesses to open last year were impressively backed by 4,600 people who invested £3.5 million in community shares. Community shares are a democratic form of finance often used to bring assets into community control. The figures from 2022 brings the total amount raised through community shares – for all community businesses supported by Plunkett – to an incredible £48 million, from 170,000 investors. A real testament to the strength of community power.”

You can read the Impact Report at the following link:
Impact-Report-2022-PRINT-7.pdf (

Broadband funding available

The Government is providing up to £210m worth of voucher funding as immediate help for people suffering from slow broadband speeds in rural areas.

Vouchers worth up to £4,500 for homes and businesses help to cover the costs of installing gigabit broadband to people’s doorsteps.

You can check whether your premises is eligible for a voucher, find a list of registered suppliers, and see those who are active in your area on the website below.

Local business organisations – 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 2023.  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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