Rural Economy Spotlight - March 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.

As the next general election looms, the RSN’s Winning The Rural Vote campaign turns its focus towards empowering Rural Economies, a critical step towards achieving national wealth and prosperity.

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.

Affordable housing, transport and broadband hampering rural business growth

Businesses in rural areas perceive new opportunities for growth but long-standing challenges such as affordable housing, transport and broadband capacity are hampering take-up, according to a major new survey from the National Innovation Centre for Rural Enterprise (NICRE).

Almost half of rural firms in the North East, South West and West Midlands see opportunities for providing products or services relating to health and well-being and the environment as consumer priorities and interests change post-pandemic.

But deep-rooted issues in rural areas threaten firms’ ability to grasp opportunities with 40% citing a lack of availability of affordable housing locally, compared to a third of urban firms, and 39% a lack of transport services/infrastructure, compared to 26% of urban firms. A third of rural firms also identified inadequate broadband capacity, compared to a quarter of urban businesses. The most common constraint for both rural and urban firms was staff recruitment and retention (50%).

NICRE’s State of Rural Enterprise Report, ‘The rural economy post-pandemic: opportunities and barriers for business growth’ calls for continued improvements in infrastructure in rural areas. You can read the full report at the following link:
Growth opportunities for rural businesses, but long-standing challenges remain - NICRE

Rural Innovation Thrives at the North East Technology Park

Amongst the rolling countryside of County Durham, North East Technology Park (NETPark) in Sedgefield is a unique science park where cutting-edge research and development flourishes. Celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, phase 3 of the science park is now underway, bringing significant opportunities for the region.

Glenn Martin, Regeneration Policy Lead at the Council, writes:

“The £62 million expansion, funded by Durham County Council, highlights an unwavering commitment to fostering innovation and new opportunities in the county.

“Phase 3 will offer 232,000 sq ft of additional laboratory, production, and office space, specifically designed to accommodate the needs of expanding companies on the park, as well as new occupants seeking a high-quality collaborative and supportive environment. Phase 3 will generate 1,250 new well-paid scientific and technical jobs for local residents and university graduates, is expected to contribute £650 million of Gross Value Added, and provide a substantial economic boost to the region. In addition to phase 3, a further 40 hectares of land has been safeguarded in the County Durham Plan for future growth at NETPark, which is set to become a Growth Site as part of the new North East Investment Zone.”

NETPark has grown into a thriving community of around 40 science, engineering, and technology businesses, employing 700 highly skilled people. The diverse sectors at NETPark span advanced materials, nanotechnology, X-ray technology, semiconductors, defence, photonics, pharmaceuticals, and satellite applications.

“Managed by Business Durham, the business support service of Durham County Council, NETPark offers significant business advantages, fostering a collaborative environment where companies can share knowledge, network, and benefit from the proximity to like-minded organisations. Businesses on and off-site can tap into Durham University expertise, CPI’s knowledge and testing facilities, three national Catapult centres, and the new regional cluster, Space North East England. NETPark provides an ideal setting for innovation, demonstrating that cutting-edge activities can take place in rural locations.”

For more information visit:

RSN 2024 seminar programme released

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

  • Rural fair funding – 27th March
  • Rural economy – 24th April
  • Rural transport – 22nd May
  • 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.

The economic impact of building social housing

Research from Shelter and the National Housing Federation, carried out by CEBR, shows that building 90,000 social rented homes would add £51.2bn to the economy.

Most of this impact would happen quickly – £32.6bn would be generated within a year of building the homes, supporting almost 140,000 jobs. Within three years, the programme would break even, with the wider economic benefits surpassing the upfront cost of building, largely by boosting the construction industry.

The research demonstrates that the economic benefits continue over the longer term, through the management of more social homes, savings on housing benefit, and wider benefits including reduced homelessness, increased employment, and improved healthcare.

The research estimates that within 11 years the initial government funding to build the homes would be fully paid back. Over a 30-year period, building 90,000 social homes results in an estimated £12bn profit for the taxpayer.

You can read the full report 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 (

Community business clusters and resilience

In November 2023, Power to Change published the final report from their groundbreaking Community Life Survey Hyperlocal Booster research. This report shares the findings from surveys in the hyperlocal areas that had received funding through their Empowering Places programme in 2018, 2020, and 2022.

In a recent blog Chloe Nelson, Insight Manager at Power to Change, writes:

“The results from this research showed that clusters of community businesses, when given the right type of funding, create more resilient places for people to live and work. The research used a ‘difference-in-difference’ methodology to conduct analysis. This statistical technique estimates change over time in the areas we supported, compared with changes seen in similar areas not involved in the programme. It is a robust way of understanding whether our funding has impacted local areas over the long-term. It ultimately showed that residents who live in the areas with high concentrations of community businesses supported through Empowering Places experienced greater resilience and less adverse impact on their wellbeing than people living in other similar areas.

“The findings show that although the Empowering Places areas mostly saw decreases in wellbeing between 2020 and 2022, this was to a lesser extent than in the comparison areas, which experienced consistent and large decreases between 2018 and 2022. The breadth and strength of the evidence, and the consistency in these trends, means we can reasonably conclude that clusters of community businesses at a hyperlocal level are likely to have contributed to increasing resilience and wellbeing in the Empowering Places areas in this period.”

You can read more at this link.

Council helps Ancient Farm welcome visitors, with £50,000 rural grant

East Hampshire District Council have awarded £50,000 from their Rural Grant scheme, part of the council’s Grow Up! Programme, to Butser Ancient Farm, to help improve access to the site for school trips and people with accessibility issues.

The project at consisted of tarmacking the driveway, extending the pathways throughout the site, and laying a grid system on the overflow carpark enabling it to be used safely all year round. The parking and pathways weren’t as accessible as the visitors require, and these practical improvements have enabled more people to access the positive physical and mental effects of being in nature.

Butser Ancient Farm is an experimental archaeology centre based in the South Downs National Park. It is at the forefront of outdoor education and attracts tourists from around the world. It is run with the help of volunteers.

Simon Jay, Director at Butser Ancient Farm, said:

“We are very excited that the groundworks have just been completed to extend the network of paths at the farm. The new path layout has greatly improved the accessibility of the site. The paths also enhance the visitor experience as they journey through time periods from the Mesolithic to Roman era. This would not have been possible without the help of East Hampshire District Council.

“The project has not only safeguarded the farm but supports our public engagement and education. Through guided tours, workshops, and events, the farm has been able to share the rich history of the site with a wider audience, enriching the visitor experience and fostering a greater appreciation for our ancient heritage."

Cllr Robert Mocatta, Portfolio Holder for Regeneration & Prosperity, said:

“I am proud that we have been able to support Butser Ancient Farm with this project. The work was funded through the Rural England Prosperity Fund, which is part of central government’s UK Shared Prosperity Fund.”

The REPF programme in East Hampshire runs over two administrative years: 2023/2024 (£196,248) and 2024/2025 (£294,370), prioritising projects that deliver the greatest economic, environmental, and social benefits.

You can read more at this link.

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.

Levelling up?

The Government has recently published a policy paper, which lays out the 12 Levelling Up Missions and the metrics that the Government will use to measure progress against these missions.  2 of the Missions were originally set out as exploratory missions relating to Wellbeing and Pride and these have now been set out in detail.

This document provides an analysis of very high level geographical disparities.  Rural / Urban analysis is not provided for all of the metrics but there are four facts presented in the document that show how poorly rural areas are performing.

Kerry Booth, Chief Executive of the RSN says:

“It is vital that the Government use the statistics that it publishes, to target action at areas needing improvement, including rural communities. The statistics show how rural communities are struggling the most with digital connectivity, house prices are less affordable and using public transport to access both employment and services is challenging. Our Winning the Rural Vote campaign sets out a number of ways that the political parties can support rural communities and take action to improve their opportunities for years to come.”

You can read more 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 June 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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