The House of Lords Select Committee on the Rural Economy has called for the Government to develop a Rural Strategy for the rural economy to address rural challenges and realise the potential of rural economies.
In its report Time for a strategy for the rural economy the Committee hightlight that with a vast range of rural businesses and initiatives, and new sectors growing fast, rural economies are increasingly diverse, dynamic and vibrant. But successive governments have underrated the contribution rural economies can make to the nation’s prosperity and wellbeing. They have applied policies largely devised for urban and suburban economies which are often inappropriate for rural England which has led to challenges including:
- Housing – lack of affordable and suitable housing stock
- Transport – reduced public transport services exacerbating unemployment, crime and isolation
- Skills shortages – mismatch of business opportunities and available labour
- Commercial challenges – from inadequate IT infrastructure to inadequate access to finance and support
- Decline of accessible services including banks, healthcare, school social service and shops
The Committee’s proposals have 3 linked elements: a coherent rural strategy, re-energised rural proofing and a “place based” approach which reflects the diversity of the countryside and the capabilities and knowledge of those who live and work there. The report’s recommendations also include measures to improve rural connectivity, business support, the planning system, training arrangement, service provision such as health and education and much more.
Comparing the development of the envisaged Rural Strategy with that for the recent industrial strategy, the committee stresses while Government must take the lead, there must be involvement and “buy-in” from local government and other public bodies such as Local Enterprise Partnerships who should also develop their own local rural strategies that consistent with the national framework.
The Committee believes that no one should be at a disadvantage because of where they live. If the potential of the rural economy is to be realised, a new framework is needed urgently to transform the way national and local governments and public bodies think about rural policy-making.
This strategy would ensure that rural communities are treated fairly and would ensure that there is:
- High-quality support for rural business, including access to finance and advice;
- Efficient and reliable public and private transport networks, and other infrastructure;
- Plentiful local employment opportunities, and a skilled workforce for rural employers;
- Good and accessible public services including health and education.
Lord Foster of Bath, Chairman of the Committee, said:
“Rural communities and the economies in them have been ignored and underrated for too long. We must act now to reverse this trend, but we can no longer allow the clear inequalities between the urban and rural to continue unchecked. A rural strategy would address challenges and realise potential in struggling and under-performing areas, and all vibrant and thriving areas to develop further. Doing nothing is not an option.