Peers scrutinise rural local government

A House of Lords committee investigating the rural economy is set to take evidence into the effectiveness of local government in rural areas.

The Select Committee on the Rural Economy, which was appointed on 17 May 2018, is taking ongoing oral evidence into issues affecting rural businesses and communities.

The latest evidence session, which is focusing on local government, will take place at Westminster on Tuesday (17 July).

Peers are examining how the government is performing when it comes to policies that aim to support rural communities.

They are also investigating what more can be done to support local shops, community pubs and other rural amenities at risk of closure.

Organisations representing rural businesses and rural communities will be questioned on access to essential services in rural areas.

Those questioned will be Jeremy Leggett, vice-chairman of the rural community council umbrella group Action with Communities in Rural England (ACRE).

Country Land and Business Association policy director Christopher Price will also give evidence to the committee on the same day.

Peers have already quizzed senior Defra civil servants, including Sarah Severn, the department's deputy director for rural policy.

The committee was set up in recognition of the importance of the rural economy - and the challenges faced by rural businesses and communities.

In 2016, rural areas of England contributed an estimated £229 billion to England’s total economy in terms of gross value added (about a fifth of England’s total economic activity).

In 2015–16 there were 537,000 businesses registered in rural areas (24% of the England total), employing 3.5 million people.

Yet the employment rate in 2016 was higher in rural areas compared with urban areas.

In 2017, median workplace-based earnings in predominantly urban areas (excluding London) were £22,900 while predominantly rural areas were slightly lower at £21,400.

When examining earnings against the affordability of housing, the gap between earnings and house prices is greater in rural areas than urban areas (excluding London).

The affordability and availability of transport and internet is another major issue for people in rural areas.

In 2015–16 people in rural areas travelled an average of 10,200 miles compared with 6,600 miles in England as a whole.

At the same time , average rural broadband speeds are lower than the national average, despite the government’s Superfast Broadband Programme to roll out faster connections.

Among its tasks, the Committee is examining the co-ordination between different government departments, including local government, to address issues affecting rural communities.


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