The National Rural Conference 2024

The Rural Services Network (RSN) is thrilled to announce the National Rural Conference 2024, taking place from 16th to 19th September. This virtual event, accessible via Zoom, is the premier gathering for senior officers, members, policymakers, and rural service professionals.
Further information and booking details can be found here

Rural Economy Spotlight - June 2024

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

Winning the rural vote – unleashing potential of the rural economy

The economic contribution of rural areas to the national fabric cannot be overstated. Despite facing unique challenges, these regions remain a bedrock of potential and resilience, contributing significantly to the Gross Value Added (GVA) and showcasing a diverse economic landscape beyond the traditional sectors of agriculture and tourism.

RSN’s Winning The Rural Vote campaign aims to remind all political parties that 40% of constituencies are rural. Empowering Rural Economies is one of eight key focus areas within the campaign.

In 2021, rural England not only employed millions but also demonstrated a formidable economic presence, contributing more than a 15% share to the national economy. This achievement emphasises the need for governmental acknowledgment of rural areas as pivotal players in the economic domain. The RSN campaign advocates for this recognition to be embedded across all strategies and programmes, ensuring rural contributions are no longer sidelined but celebrated and leveraged for further growth.

Winning The Rural Vote articulates a series of targeted policy solutions aimed at bolstering rural economies, recognising their indispensable role in the broader national framework, and stands as a clarion call for reimagining rural contribution to national wealth.

You can read all the detail at this link.

Kerry Booth, RSN Chief Executive, said:

“As we approach this pivotal general election, it is crucial that the voices of rural communities are not just heard but acted upon. For too long, rural areas have been underfunded and overlooked, leading to significant disparities in public services, housing, and economic opportunities. Our 'Winning the Rural Vote' campaign lays out a clear roadmap for achieving fair funding and equitable treatment for rural areas. We urge all political parties to commit to these essential changes, ensuring that rural communities can thrive and contribute fully to the nation's prosperity.”

The language used can help, or hinder, the case for rural investment

New research published by the National Innovation Centre for Rural Enterprise (NICRE) finds strong public support for increasing investment in rural areas if the case is well presented.

When shown a well-framed case, 76-77% of people polled supported investing more resources into rural England, compared to 1-4% who opposed it. Even where the trade-off between rural and urban investment was explicit, almost three times as many people supported (40-44%) as opposed (14-16%) investing in rural places. The idea that essential services should be available wherever you live in the country was supported by  a massive 86% of people and opposed by just 2%.

NICRE state:

“The polling results suggest that, if the framing is right, people support rural investment. But the strongest support was for the idea that everyone should have access to basic services, regardless of where they live in the country. This may suggest that when it comes to making a case for rural investment, it could be most persuasive to appeal to people’s sense that everyone should have access to basic services regardless of where they live.”

You can read more about this illuminating research at this link.

Community business priorities suggested for the next government

Head of Policy and Communications at Plunkett UK, Chris Cowcher, sets out his view on the upcoming general election and encourages community businesses to be local champions.

Chirs sets out a summary of some of the priorities Plunkett believe that the next UK Government must commit to. These are as follows:

  • “A Community Right to Buy. Communities must be given a right of first refusal to purchase the assets that matter most to them.
  • The continuation of an extended and expanded Community Ownership Fund, offering access to grants and advice across our sector.
  • Rural proofing the forthcoming Community Wealth Fund so that the transformative impacts of rural community-owned businesses can be realised in communities supported by the fund.
  • Implement the proposed Community Enterprise Growth Plan, utilising Dormant Assets funding to support all forms of social investment, including Community Shares.
  • Utilise the community ownership model in relation to delivering new infrastructure within future housing developments.
  • Create an environment for community businesses to thrive with fairer taxation and appropriate rate reliefs.”

Chris states:

“Over the last 14 years of this Government, the community ownership sector has more than doubled in size. We must build on this period of growth by supporting the already trading businesses as well as continuing to nurture the pipeline of aspiring community ownership projects too.”

You can read more at this link.

RSN 2024 seminar and conference programme

Dates for the annual National Rural Conference have been confirmed as 16th – 19th September 2024. Booking will open later this year.

The online seminar programme for 2024 is already open for booking with the following events taking place during the rest of 2024:

  • Rural affordable housing – 26th June
  • Rural planning – 23rd October
  • Rural health and care – 27th November

To book a place on any of the seminars follow this link.

Next government must not leave rural communities behind says national charity

Action with Communities in Rural England (ACRE) is urging politicians of all persuasions not to forget the needs and circumstances of people living and working in the countryside in the run up to the general election.

The charity states that for too long, governments have overlooked the challenges that rural residents face, including diminishing public services, inadequate infrastructure, and housing which has become increasingly unaffordable resulting in hidden poverty and ageing communities.

Jeremy Leggett, ACRE’s Policy Adviser said:

“9.7 million people live in the English countryside, equivalent to the population of London. But more often than not, they don’t get the same attention from the government as their counterparts in the city. And people are starting to recognise this – whether it be disgruntled farmers protesting for the first time about cheap imports, young families given notice to leave their rental property to make way for another Airbnb letting, local businesses flooded again in Worcestershire, or pensioners unable to make their way to hospital because there’s no local clinics or public transport.

We believe lots can be done to close this gap, from creating a new statutory advisory body charged with requiring government departments to appraise the impact of policies on rural dwellers, to funding much more community-led housing, and supporting villages to develop plans so they can become more resilient to climate change.”

ACRE has set out a suite of policy recommendations for the next government which it is sending to prospective parliamentary candidates via its 38 member organisations which work in support of rural community initiatives in every county of England. It is hoped this will trigger a debate about what it means and takes to represent rural communities in 2024.

You can read all the ACRE recommendations at this link.

Rural England statistical digest available

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 is structured 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

You can access all the contents at the following link:
About the Digest and Rural Definitions - GOV.UK (

Government publishes third Rural Proofing report

The Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA) released its third Rural Proofing Report in March this year. Entitled ‘Delivering Rural Opportunity - The Third Report on Rural Proofing,’ the document provides an overview of the Government’s efforts to address the specific needs and challenges of rural areas.

Following on from the policy statement ‘Unleashing Rural Opportunity’ published in June 2023, the report is structured around four themes:

  • growing the rural economy
  • connectivity
  • homes and energy
  • community

If you missed it, you can read the full report at this link.

Consultation on alcohol in licensed pavement areas

Businesses such as pubs and restaurants are licensed to sell alcohol for customers to drink on the premises (‘on-sales’).

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the government passed regulations allowing them to sell alcohol for takeaway, delivery and to drink in licensed pavement areas (‘off-sales’), without changing their licence.

The regulations expire on 31 March 2025 and the Home Office is currently consulting on permanent options for alcohol licensing after this date.

This consultation closes on 11 July 2024, and you can find all the details here.

Rural Economy Insights from RSN

Economy Insight on the RSN website provides important markers as to the state of the economy for RSN members.

Recent additions include information on job quality (hours, earnings and contract information), local migration and jobs density.

Find out more on the RSN Member’s Insights Pages here.

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.

Neighbourhood Planning Grant Fund re-opens

The Department for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities (DLUHC) have extended support for Neighbourhood Planning for a seventh year (2024/2025). The Neighbourhood Planning Support Programme will continue to offer grants and Technical Support packages and is currently open for applications as follows:

  • If you're working on a neighbourhood plan or neighbourhood development order, you can apply for grant funding of up to £10,000. Further grant funding is available to groups meeting certain criteria.
  • If you're facing complex issues such as allocating sites for development, you can apply for Technical Support where a specialist advisor will support you with specific issues or assessments.

The fund is managed by Locality, and you can find all the details at this link.

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 2024.  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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