Rural Economy Spotlight - March 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 Strategy Roadshows press the case for a National Rural Strategy

Organised by a partnership of Rural Services Network, Action with Communities in Rural England, The Rural Coalition and The Plunkett Foundation, a series of Rural Strategy Roadshows are taking place around the country.

Following Roadshows in the North East and North West in 2019, three events are taking place at Chichester District Council on 9 March, Warwick Business School on 19 March and East Devon District Council on 23 March.

As we approach the 20th anniversary of the last Rural White Paper, the partnership believe it is time to comprehensively review the opportunities and threats facing rural areas and communities in England.

Today the challenges facing rural areas leave residents and communities feeling isolated and overlooked by a political and financial system that is seemingly focused on towns and cities. Yet, nearly 20% of England’s population live in the countryside, more in total than in Greater London. There is a genuine need for their voice to be heard.

The Rural Strategy Roadshow aims to champion a new Rural Strategy to raise the profile of rural issues and address the challenges faced by the rural communities, with the intention of achieving genuine equality for future generations of people living and working in rural England. The Roadshows look at a range of issues and opportunities, related to community, governance, connectivity and access and essential services in developing the building blocks of a new Rural Strategy.

If you are interested in finding out more, please follow this link.

Take a walk on the wild side – in Pulborough

A partnership between Pulborough Community Partnership, Pulborough Parish Council, South Downs National Park, RSPB and Horsham District Council has resulted in a new countryside project being completed in West Sussex.

This new WildArt trail is described as “an enchanting trail of thrilling sculptures and digital wildlife through the beautiful countryside from Pulborough rail station to the RSPB Nature Reserve and vice versa.”

After 12 months in the planning, Pulborough’s unique WildArt trail is now open to the public and constitutes an intriguing all-access art and sensory experience for all ages which can spring to life through an associated smartphone app.

If you downloaded the free app to your phone you will see the full trail map with all the sculptures and imaginative signage and plenty of commentary on the area’s wildlife and points of geological and historical interest. The app will also be a good educational tool for younger people and will include a bespoke quiz.

A unique augmented reality (AR) experience along the trail will see children meet and interact with 3D augmented characters, encouraging them to engage with wildlife and nature. Throughout the route the trail will be marked by high quality sculptures, way markers and themed information boards highlighting the local geology and wildlife along the way.

The trail is being funded thanks to the Council being awarded £200,000 from the European Union’s Agriculture Fund for Rural Development Programme (EAFRD) to support rural tourism. 

Horsham Council are clear that the trail will be a real hit with people of all age groups and will bring a boost to Pulborough’s economy as visitors discover the area afresh.

For more information please email or follow this link.

Rural Connected Communities 5G winners announced

£30 million funding has been announced from the Rural Connected Communities (RCC) competition for seven 5G research and development projects across the UK. This includes five in England, one in Wales and one in Scotland with plans to expand into Northern Ireland. Test sites will be set up in Yorkshire, Gwent, Monmouthshire, Orkney, Wiltshire, Nottinghamshire, Dorset, Shropshire and Worcestershire.

Sherwood Forest in Nottinghamshire will see cutting-edge apps transform the visitor experience, with Robin Hood telling the history of the medieval forest via virtual and augmented reality on 5G networks. New robotic environmental management will also be tested alongside live monitoring of the health of Sherwood Forest to preserve the site for future generations.

Funding will also go to 5G trials in air and sea search and rescue in Dorset to help save lives using terrestrial and satellite connectivity. This project will also trial 5G connectivity for remote farms to track crop growth, monitor livestock and reduce water pollution using 5G.

The Mobile Access North Yorkshire (MANY) project will support the development of future rural connectivity in the county by developing new technologies, apps and services tailored for rural areas. These will focus on tourism, mental health, coverage for emergency services and environmental management.

Operating in the rural area where the counties of Shropshire and Worcestershire meet, ‘West Mercia Rural 5G’ will explore infrastructure challenges when planning, building and operating a rural 5G network and look at how 5G can enhance services for the benefit of residents, particularly researching 5G enabled health and social care applications.

These new trials are intended to help spread the benefits of technology across the country and allow the UK to grasp an early advantage by using the new applications 5G networks can enable.

You can read more via this link.

Environment Bill progresses through Parliament

The Second Reading of the Environment Bill took place in parliament at the end of February.

Opening the Bill’s Second Reading, Environment Secretary George Eustice said the Bill is “a keystone in the government’s vision to deliver the most ambitious environmental programme of any country on earth.

Environment Secretary George Eustice said: “The Prime Minster is clear – and so am I - we will deliver the most ambitious environmental programme of any country on Earth. This transformative Bill is at the heart of our work. It will see us recycling more and wasting less, breathing cleaner air, planting trees, safeguarding forests, and supporting nature recovery as we work to tackle climate change and reach net zero emissions.”

You can track the progress of the bill via this link.

Rural firms perform just as well as urban firms

The Enterprise Research Centre, in conjunction with Newcastle University Centre for Rural Economy and Business School, has published its latest research paper based on analysis of the government’s longitudinal small business survey. The following is an extract from the report:

“Improving productivity is critical to increasing economic growth and prosperity in the long-run and a key objective for UK national, regional and local policy. However, a long tail of low productivity businesses and significant spatial variations in productivity characterise the UK economy. This report presents an analysis of the determinants of Small and Medium Sized Enterprise (SME) labour productivity, with a particular focus on how place and productivity interact.”

“Regarding firm-level factors, the results show that microbusinesses and sole traders tend to have lower productivity. In contrast, business capabilities to develop and implement business plans, and obtain external finance, as well as receiving external advice in the previous year, positively contribute to productivity. The sector in which a business operates also matters with health and social work generally associated with lower productivity. Digital capabilities, internal to the SME, as well as some types of network membership contribute to higher productivity. Regarding ownership, after controlling for other factors, the results reveal that family businesses are not more or less productive than non-family ones, but, women-led businesses record significantly lower productivity. At the LEP level, the findings reveal that firms located in LEPs with a more skilled and educated population tend to have higher labour productivity. Improved broadband speeds, in some models, are also associated with higher productivity. Taken together the results give credence, in terms of explaining variations in SME productivity, to industrial organisation theory, the Resource-Based View relating to business capabilities and institutional and network effects. “

“Not surprisingly, our analysis confirms previous findings from the ONS about the regional disparities in the UK, as we find that firms located in London and the South East demonstrate higher labour productivity. However, we find a lack of supporting evidence for agglomeration theories which stress the benefits of urban areas per se in stimulating higher SME productivity, since our analysis shows that firms located in rural areas perform as well as urban firms.”

You can read the full report via this link.

Government launches new Business Support campaign

The government has launched a new business support campaign, designed to help businesses to find the right support as part of their stated ambition to make the UK the best place in the world to work and grow a business.

As part of the campaign, government support will be advertised across a range of media, from billboards and newspapers to radio and social media.

From 17 February, all of the government’s business support schemes will be accessible via the new Business Support site, aiming to make it easier for businesses in England to find out about the full range of support available to them.

Schemes are divided into 4 areas:

  • Finance and business planning – funding for new businesses and support to help existing business grow, dealing with late payments, and equity and debt finance
  • Leadership and talent – mentoring schemes, help with recruiting, developing leadership skills or joining a network
  • Innovation and technology – funding for innovation, adoption of new technology, intellectual property and finding partners for innovation
  • Exporting - support for doing business internationally and expanding online.

You can read more via this link.

Economic Factsheets available by local authority area

To inform and contextualise a local authority area's economic situation, RSN has produced factsheets for every member authority providing a wide range of facts, figures and associated graphs. The factsheets provide rural and urban averages, and averages for the classification of the authority (for example district, unitary or county average). These are incredibly useful and have proved very popular with RSN members. You can access all the factsheets via the RSN website.

Institute responds to final report of UK2070 Commission

The Institute of Economic Development (IED) has responded to the publication of the final report of the UK2070 Commission: ‘Make No Little Plans – Acting At Scale For A Fairer and Stronger Future.’

IED Executive Director Nigel Wilcock said: “The IED completely endorses the work of the UK2070 Commission, which today published its ‘Make No Little Plans’ report. In fact, the IED is encouraging its members to shout it from the rooftops and pass no opportunity to help carry out its recommendations and raise its work with their colleagues and others of influence.

“Whilst it is coincidence that the report has been published on the same day that environmental objections have placed doubt over the legal right of the Government to press on with Heathrow’s additional runway, it is perhaps symptomatic of a groundswell of opinion that we need a different answer. Ever greater pressures of growth place ever increasing burdens on the communities of the South East with clear evidence of the damage to health and the environment. Not addressing the economic gaps with the rest of the UK ignores the solution that an entire country approach could bring.”

This includes rural areas, of course. You can read the full IED response via this link.

Funding announced for businesses and households in flood-hit areas

On 18 February the government announced the availability of funding support for people affected by flooding following Storms Dennis and Ciara. 

Under the Flood Recovery Framework and as some affected areas move into recovery, families and businesses will receive funding from their local councils after a set of support packages were announced by the Local Government Secretary Robert Jenrick.
Under the measures announced:

  • Flood-hit households in affected areas can apply for up to £500 in financial hardship payments to give cash quickly to those in short-term need.
  • Households and businesses significantly affected by recent flooding will be eligible for 100% council tax and business rates relief for at least three months.
  • Small-to-medium sized businesses in affected areas which have suffered severe, uninsurable losses will be eligible for up to £2,500 from the Business Recovery Grant.
  • Flood-hit homes and businesses can apply for up to £5,000 to help make them more resilient to future flooding.

For more information follow this link.

Digital Connectivity Portal for local authorities

The Digital Connectivity Portal has been developed by the Department for Culture, Media & Sport as an online resource for local authorities and communications network providers with guidance on how to encourage investment in fibre and mobile networks at the local level. The portal was launched in January 2019.

The Portal provides practical guidance on areas such as: digital infrastructure strategies, enabling the use of local authority assets for network deployment, access agreements, considerations for the local planning authority, and street works. It will be updated periodically as new laws, regulations and examples of best practice develop.

You can access the portal here.

Consultation on ending sale of new petrol, diesel and hybrid cars

The Department for Transport and the Office for Low Emission Vehicles are seeking views on bringing forward the end to the sale of new petrol, diesel and hybrid cars and vans from 2040 to 2035, or earlier if a faster transition appears feasible.

They are asking for views on:

  • the phase out date
  • the definition of what should be phased out
  • barriers to achieving the above proposals
  • the impact of these ambitions on different sectors of industry and society
  • what measures are required by government and others to achieve the earlier phase out date

This consultation closes on 29 May 2020 and you can access full details 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 February 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 December 2019 “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.

All Party Parliamentary Group – influence in Westminster

The Rural Services APPG supported by RSN provides an excellent opportunity to put issues of the moment in front of MPs in the heart of Westminster and to seek to influence national debate.  If you have any views on key topics which should be covered in future APPGs please contact Andy Dean.

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 June 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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