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Rural Economy Spotlight - September 2020

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

Rural Economy features prominently at National Rural Conference

The National Rural Conference 2020 has moved online and runs for a full week. Taking place from Monday 14 to Friday 18 September, the first day was wholly dedicated to the rural economy and kicked off with Professor Janet Dwyer from Gloucestershire University discussing the innovation agenda.

Nigel Wilcock, Executive Director of the Institute of Economic Development then launched a brand new ‘Rural Opportunities Toolkit’ and Professor Sally Shortall from Newcastle University and Alan Menzies, Director of Planning & Economic Regeneration at East Riding Council, then discussed potential new directions for the rural economy and the need for a revitalised approach. The day concluded with a focus on net zero from founder and CEO of Green Energy UK, Doug Scott.

Presentations from the day, together with a copy of the Rural Opportunities Toolkit will be available on the RSN website.


Pub bounces back with new shop

The Green Man in Scamblesby near Louth has opened a permanent village shop, providing new employment for two local people.

The Village Shop Scamblesby is situated in an old storeroom next to the pub with its own separate entrance and is open from 8.30am to 5.30pm from Tuesday to Saturday and from 12 midday to 5pm on Sunday. Anyone visiting the pub in the evening can also buy anything they need from the shop.

It sells newspapers, fresh bread, local dairy produce, including Myers Farm Eggs, fresh fruit and vegetables from Shaws in Louth, meat from Wards Butchers in Sleaford, Saints and Sinners Preserves, Olive Soy Candles and a full range of grocery essentials.

The shop has been refurbished and fitted out with a grant of £3,000 from Pub is The Hub’s Community Services Fund towards the overall cost and the idea was a result of the Covid shutdown in March.

Pub owner Richard Bradley explains: “While we were closed during lockdown, I realised that the villagers and surrounding area would benefit from having a village shop. I came across Pub is The Hub’s work following a search online for support available for village pubs. We had amazing support from Dave Allen the regional advisor with Pub is The Hub and, following our application, our grant was approved within days. From enquiring to the point of opening the shop, it only took six weeks.”

Richard Bradley and his business partner, Charles Nickerson, purchased the pub in September 2019 after it had been closed for 12 months. They spent three months completely refurbishing it and re-opened again in December 2019 with pub manager Jade Dillon at the helm, only to be closed again just three months later due to Covid.

Richard continued: “The Green Man had not been fully open for three years by the time we purchased the pub and it had lost its place at the heart of the village. When we re-opened at Christmas, we hosted the village choir and Christmas carol concert in a packed-out pub with many smiling faces. It was heart-breaking to have to shut the doors again.  

“We are thrilled to be up and running again and with the addition of the shop we aim to be the hub of the village once again.”

You can read more on this story and find out what support is available from ‘Pub is the Hub’ via this link.


Broadband Upgrade Fund currently open in 3 areas

To ensure the hardest-to-reach areas are not left behind and can access improved broadband services, the government has introduced a pilot campaign for homes and businesses in three rural areas of the UK, called the Broadband Upgrade Fund, as part of the national Gigabit Broadband Voucher Scheme. The aim is to help capture public interest in faster, more reliable broadband in each of the pilot areas. This is intended to encourage suppliers to extend their broadband networks to meet demand and the government will help to fund the cost of the work.

The Broadband Upgrade Fund is a pilot campaign available to rural premises in Cornwall, Carmarthenshire, Ceredigion, Pembrokeshire, Cumbria and Northumberland.

Rural residents and businesses (SMEs) in these areas with broadband speeds of less than 100Mbps could be eligible for the Broadband Upgrade Fund. The funding is available as small grants known as vouchers worth up to £3,500 for each small and medium-sized business (SMEs), and up to £1,500 per residential property. Once sufficient interest is created in an area or community, the fund generated goes direct to the chosen supplier to offset the cost of delivering the improved service.

Communities have until 30 September 2020 to register as much interest as possible to grow their Broadband Upgrade Fund.

You can find out more via this link.


Is your business Good to Go?

“We’re Good To Go” is the official UK mark to signal that a tourism and hospitality business has worked hard to follow Government and industry Covid-19 guidelines and has a process in place to maintain cleanliness and aid social distancing.

Applications can be made now to confirm that an organisation has taken the necessary measures and is operating in line with the Government guidelines and Public Health guidance clearly set out in their Covid-19 Risk Assessment.

Upon successful completion of the application, organisations will be sent a secure link to download their certificate, mark and a toolkit with practical steps for telling customers that the business is Good to Go.

The application will take approximately 20 minutes to complete and you need to make sure you have read the relevant Government and Public Health guidance before you begin.

More details, including full terms and conditions, are available via this link.


Economy Insights available for local authority members

The rural economy is as diverse and important to delivering a strong, cohesive community as any economy would be.  RSN maintains a dedicated section on its website to provide important markers as to the state of the economy for member local authorities. Covering topics such as unemployment, earnings, employment type and population, you can find out more information via this link.


Gigabit Broadband Voucher scheme for rural homes and businesses

Gigabit-capable broadband connections offer the fastest and most reliable speeds available, and the Government “is committed to a vision of a digitally connected Britain.”

Homes and businesses in rural areas of the UK may be eligible for funding towards the cost of installing gigabit-capable broadband when part of a group scheme.

Rural premises with broadband speeds of less than 100Mbps can use vouchers worth £1,500 per home and up to £3,500 for each small to medium-sized business (SME) to support the cost of installing new fast and reliable connections.

More information is available via the website.


Financial support for businesses during coronavirus

The government’s support for businesses is changing with new announcements on a regular basis. All government information for business is available through their website. This includes:

  • the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme
  • deferring VAT and Income Tax payments
  • Self-employment Income Support Scheme
  • Statutory Sick Pay relief package for small and medium sized businesses
  • business rate relief
  • small business grant funding of £10,000 for all business in receipt of small business rate relief or rural rate relief
  • grant funding of £25,000 for retail, hospitality and leisure businesses with property with a rateable value between £15,000 and £51,000
  • the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme

Information on all these items can be found via this link.


Revitalising Rural campaign

‘Revitalising Rural: Realising the Vision’ is a campaign led by the Rural Services Network to challenge Government on a number of policy areas that affect rural communities. It is due to be launched in Autumn 2020 and the RSN is working hard to develop a document that reflects the needs of rural areas along with a number of asks for Government.

So far we have extensively consulted our members and developed a series of draft asks covering a wide range of areas as follows:

  • Digital Connectivity
  • Energy Infrastructure and Renewables
  • Transport and Access to Jobs and Opportunities
  • Accessible Health and Care Services
  • Village Schools and Local Assets
  • Local Enterprise Partnerships and Local Industrial Strategies
  • Land Use Planning System
  • Further Education, Training and Apprenticeships
  • Parish Councils and Community Action
  • Rural Town Centres and High Streets
  • Affordable Housing
  • UK Shared Prosperity Fund
  • Managing an Older Population
  • Sustainable Farming and Land Management
  • Decarbonising Rural Communities and Economies
  • Business Advice and Guidance

You can read the full asks and find out more about this campaign via this link.


Radio waves opened up to improve rural coverage

The government has announced that: “The next step in the Prime Minister’s infrastructure revolution has been completed to open up more of the nation’s radio waves to improve rural mobile coverage and deliver the revolutionary new benefits of 5G technology.”

This involves the completion of the four-year major infrastructure programme to clear the 700 MHz spectrum band.

Spectrum is the airwaves over which televisions, mobile phones, tablets, radios and other devices communicate. Clearing a portion of the spectrum in the 700MHz frequency means that new data capacity is released for mobile operators.

Data use is only set to grow as 5G, the next generation of mobile connectivity, becomes more available and is used for an increasing array of new services and applications.

The 700MHz spectrum band had mainly been used for digital terrestrial TV broadcast (Freeview) as well as professional radio microphones used in music studios, theatres and outdoor events.

Now that 20 million homes have successfully re-tuned their TV equipment to continue to receive their TV channels on lower frequencies the 700MHz band is exclusively available for mobile use.

Government state that: “This will allow mobile operators and other innovative companies to use 5G to develop new high data usage technologies and services to boost sectors such as manufacturing, transport and healthcare. The low frequency of the 700MHz spectrum band is ideal for carrying mobile signals into buildings and over long distances – including the countryside. The clearance will increase capacity in today’s 4G networks helping level up rural communities with greater mobile coverage, reach, and reliability.”

You can read more on this news item via this link.


Big changes to the planning system proposed

Two live government consultations propose significant changes to the planning system. The first, “Changes to the Current Planning System: consultation on changes to planning policy & regulations” sets out 4 main proposals:

  • changes to the standard method for assessing local housing need
  • securing of First Homes through developer contributions in the short term until the transition to a new system
  • temporarily lifting the small sites threshold below which developers do not need to contribute to affordable housing
  • extending the current Permission in Principle to major development

This consultation closes on 1 October 2020 and can be accesses via this link.

The second, “Planning for the Future” White Paper proposes reforms of the planning system designed, government argues, “to streamline and modernise the planning process, bring a new focus to design and sustainability, improve the system of developer contributions to infrastructure, and ensure more land is available for development where it is needed.” This consultation closes on 29 October 2020 and more details can be accessed via this link.

A joint letter responding to some of these proposals has been sent to the Secretary of State by RSN, ACRE, the Rural Housing Alliance and Plunkett Foundation and states: “The proposal to raise the threshold that triggers affordable housing contributions from 10 to 40-50 dwellings for a limited time period will drastically reduce the supply of rural affordable homes. This is because in many rural communities, residential developments tend to be smaller than 10 dwellings. The consultation document proposes an exemption to this rule in designated rural areas based on the S157 1985 Housing Act definition, however this measure will be largely ineffective because it will not apply to 70% of smaller rural communities.”

The letter also warns that the proposals for ‘First Home Exception Sites’ will have a devastating effect on the current successful operation of Rural Exception Sites.

The organisations suggest a simple solution to these issues and call for rural communities with a population of 3,000 or fewer to be exempt from the new rules, with local councils able to set their own thresholds for affordable housing in these settlements. This simple mechanism will ensure that affordable homes can continue to be provided where they are clearly needed.

RSN has drafted an initial outline response to the first of the above consultations designed to assist organisations in responding formally to the government. You can view this draft view via this link.


Get your business ready for end of Transition Period

The UK has left the European Union and is now in a transition period which is due to end at the end of 2020.

The Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy has advice available for businesses preparing for the new rules due to take effect from 1 January 2021. You can access the relevant information via this link.


Statistical digest of rural England published

Official statistics concerning rural England are published regularly by Defra. The latest August 2020 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 July 2020 “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.


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 December 2020.  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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