Share with us your concerns for the Rural Economy during the Covid-19 lockdown
The Rural Economy is home to over half a million registered businesses, which makes up 24% of all of the registered businesses in England. Most registered businesses in rural areas are small and almost 18% of them have no employees, being sole traders or partnerships (more than double the equivalent urban figure). Some 84% of employees in rural areas work in SMEs. There are thousands more unregistered businesses which the official statistics do not reflect.
We are concerned about the future of the Rural Economy in these uncertain times, the lockdown in place amongst so many countries across the world will significantly impact upon all sectors of the rural economy. The impacts will be short, medium and long term and are likely to be different to those in more urban areas.
Along with key rural organisations, the Rural Services Network have written to the Rt Hon George Eustice MP, The Secretary of State for DEFRA and Rishi Sunak MP, The Chancellor of the Exchequer to highlight particular concerns that we have for the rural economy. We have set these out below but so that we ensure we are including all of your and your sectors' issues and concerns, we need to hear from you – especially on issues that are ‘not hitting the headlines’.
Together with some national other rural organisations we are now engaged in short weekly conference calls with Defra’s ‘Rural Impact Cell’ and able to use these discussions to raise rural issues both with Defra and through them all Government Departments. So, we are directly able to be your rural voice and you can be our eyes and ears on the ground.
Please complete this survey at the link below if there are particular elements of the rural economy that you wish to highlight as needing support at this critical time of the country in lockdown. We will be repeating the survey in a couple of months to ensure that we are gathering relevant information as the situation progresses:
The areas we highlighted to the Secretary of State were:
- Economically, the impact on the high streets in rural towns will be severe. Many are already at risk, but in particular small, independent retailers will struggle to survive as businesses and risk losing staff. The business rates holiday will not be enough to help them through and many will be reluctant to add to their borrowing.
- The cancellation of festivals and events, such as agricultural shows, food festivals, will impact on business more widely through loss of footfall etc.
- Rural tourism and leisure businesses are often small and dependent on seasonal trade. Although it is predicted that more people will holiday in the UK this year, it is likely that this will tend towards self-catering. Many attractions are having to close. Rural arts and heritage venues are also at risk.
- In addition, the seasonal nature of rural employment and business means that income from tourism, events etc in the spring/summer months is what carries people and businesses through the winter. So the losses this year will have significant longer term implications.
- Working from home is not an option for many rural businesses and workers, especially those connected with the land. How will farmers manage, especially if they contract the virus.
- Many rural workers are self-employed and/or have a range of part-time jobs. They will be especially badly hit by loss of income.
- Socially, as you will appreciate only too well, the problems of social isolation and loneliness in rural areas will increase and will impact on mental health and wellbeing.
- The advice concerning the self-isolation of the over 70s, whilst understandable, will have a severe impact on rural community organisations. They are the backbone of rural networks and volunteering.
- Many rural elderly live some distance from their families and are dependent on local support. It is essential that statutory and voluntary run care services for the elderly and vulnerable people are maintained.
- The future of village shops and pubs is uncertain. The former might do quite well as people shop more locally. But they will be vulnerable to the risk of getting the virus themselves, potentially cutting off a local lifeline.
- There are signs that suppliers are prioritising larger retailers at the expense of small village shops and other outlets. This must be avoided.
- Village pubs are much more than suppliers of food and drink. They may be the shop, the post office or provide other much-needed services. If they have to close, it will have a severe effect on the village community.
Community businesses, including many shops and pubs, are run on very low margins and are particularly vulnerable to fluctuations in trade. Many are also dependent on voluntary labour.