Millions in rural areas could be ‘left behind’

The Local Government Association published a report last week highlighting concerns that ‘millions of people living in rural England are at risk of being 'left behind' and missing out on their fair share of future prosperity following the UK’s withdrawal from the EU, according to council leaders.

The Local Government Association set up a Post-Brexit England Commission to examine the challenges and opportunities faced by non-metropolitan England. Its final report, published at the LGA’s Annual Conference in Bournemouth today, argues that the challenges facing rural areas can only be met by passing down greater powers to local areas.

LGA analysis finds the crucial issues faced by communities outside of England’s cities include:

  • A disproportionately ageing population which will see the majority rural areas reaching a “tipping point” of over 50 retired residents per 100 of working age residents by 2030, as younger people struggle to find jobs and homes locally and move away. Many council areas are already at that level today:

- Durham currently has 53 retired residents per 100 of working age which is forecast to rise to 60 retired residents per 100 working age by 2026 and 76 retired per 100 working age by 2041.

- North Norfolk has 63 retired residents per 100 of working age which is forecast to rise to 70 retired residents per 100 working age by 2026 and 86 retired per 100 working age by 2041.

- West Dorset has 54 retired residents per 100 working age which is forecast to rise to 67 retired residents per 100 working age by 2026 and 88 retired per 100 working age by 2041.

- Rother has 58 retired residents per 100 working age which is forecast to rise to 69 retired residents per 100 working age by 2026 and 89 retired per 100 working age by 2041. 

  • Businesses that are on average 30 per cent less productive per job than urban areas with a major town centre, as economic growth in cities is fast-tracked by national Government through devolution deals and local industrial strategies.
  • Poor mobile and broadband connectivity across communities outside cities with only 42 per cent of rural residents receiving a 4G signal from every major mobile network operator in their homes.

Without their fair share of investment, councils are concerned that the brain drain away from rural areas and towards bigger cities and towns will continue. A new survey carried out for the LGA found 7 in 10 rural residents believe councils are best placed to improve their local areas and deliver the services communities desperately need. In sharp contrast, just 2 per cent said they believed central government was best placed to meet the needs of rural areas.

The LGA is calling for the Government to use the Spending Review to address the £8 billion overall funding gap facing councils by 2025.

Government also needs to recognise the growing sense of disconnection in rural England and the historic opportunity by giving councils the powers and freedoms to seize the initiative and make sure their communities and businesses can thrive.

This includes by:

  • Allowing councils to keep 100 per cent of Right to Buy receipts and set discounts locally and scrap permitted development rules so councils can ensure new homes are affordable and supported by services and infrastructure that meets local needs.
  • Fully devolving replacement EU structural funding to non-metropolitan areas, allowing it to be aligned with local economic priorities outlined in local industrial strategies. Making sustainable rural growth a key funding priority to help non-metropolitan areas drive productivity and support communities thrive.
  • Government working with Ofcom to secure superfast rural broadband and launch a rural mobile roaming scheme should 4G geographic coverage not reach 95 per cent by 2022. Connecting people to the right skills and training to secure good quality jobs locally and support local businesses.

Cllr Mark Hawthorne, Chairman of the People and Places Board, said:

“Rural residents and businesses deserve an equal stake in the nation’s future success. They want the same level of digital connectivity as their urban counterparts, jobs that reward their hard work, their fair share of public investment and are keen to take advantage of new opportunities for international trade.

“As Whitehall and Westminster have become increasingly pre-occupied with delivering Brexit, local councils have got on and delivered crucial services and investment for their residents. Our hard work and commitment is reflected by the enormous trust placed in councils by residents.

“Our message to Government is simple, give councils the powers they need to help people get on with their lives and address a deepening divide between rural and urban areas of England.”


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