Rural Economy Spotlight - September 2019

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 Economy front and centre at National Rural Conference

‘Creating vibrant rural communities’ was the theme of this year’s national Rural Conference, held in Cheltenham on 3 and 4 September.

With a stirring keynote speech given by Lord Foster of Bath, the rural economy was a key theme throughout the two days.  Chair of the House of Lords Select Committee on the rural economy which published its report entitled ‘Time for a Strategy for the Rural Economy’ earlier in the summer, Lord Foster emphasised the need for future governments to give due regard to the diversity and potential of the rural economy, stating: “No future government should have the blind spot for rural economies which there has been for so many years.”

Professor Janet Dwyer of the Countryside & Communities Research Institute at Gloucestershire University gave an excellent summary of recent academic and other research into the rural economy. This suggests a number of key relevant global perspectives over the next 10 years including:

  • Turbulent markets from political uncertainties, affecting business and communities
  • Slow, low growth in developed economies, limited public finances – constraining public sector adjustment, services and investment
  • Climate change and decarbonisation – a major need to change how basic services and infrastructure are provided and renewed
  • Demography – workforce shrinking as a share of population; populations growing in many areas but declining in the most remote; ageing and / or gentrification continuing, bringing opportunity as well as challenge
  • Continuing (and uneven) digital transformation
  • Persistent inequality causing disengagement, loss of community and trust

If you were not able to attend the conference, you can access all the presentations via this link.

Calling all rural exemplar LEPs

RSN wants to hear from Local Enterprise Partnerships who are passionate about their rural areas and reflect this in their strategies and activities. If you have a great example where your LEP has gone the extra mile to make sure rural businesses and economic activity are supported, we would like to hear from you. Whether your LEP has developed a dedicated rural programme, sought to truly rural proof their activities, or adopted a different approach, RSN is keen to promote good practice in relation to rural economic development. Please contact Andy Dean if there is good practice in a LEP near you that you would like to share.

Cinderford encouraged by early Future High Streets Fund success

One of the Forest of Dean’s Market Towns may be in with a chance of significant Government Funds. Cinderford Town Council and Forest of Dean District Council worked together to submit an Expression of Interest to the Future High Streets Fund and the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government have now confirmed it will contribute towards the costs of preparing a Business Case. The project development money will be used to draw up viable project plans for a number of transformative Town Centre schemes which could include:

  • Pedestrianising part of the town’s triangle to increase public open space
  • Repurposing some of Cinderford’s town centre land and property for new commercial and community uses
  • Improving Car Parking

A recent extension to the national funding pot available means that Cinderford’s ideas will now go forward to the next stage.  Cinderford is the only Gloucestershire Town to benefit from the £1 billion Future High Streets Fund. It joins 100 other English towns from Dudley to Dover and Scarborough to Stockport the Government has said it wants to hear detailed proposals for. The towns will progress to the second phase of the Future High Streets Fund and receive up to £150,000 to support the development of detailed project proposals that can be submitted for capital funding.

Partnership working between Cinderford Town Council and the Forest of Dean District Council is not a new concept. The Councils are founding Members of the Cinderford Regeneration Board – which makes decisions on the wider direction of regeneration in Cinderford. The Board was first established in 2005 and has seen success across a number of areas, most recently celebrating the opening of the new Gloucestershire College’s Cinderford Campus on land that will one day also see new housing and employment space.

Rural 5G rollout competition launched

Digital Secretary Nicky Morgan has launched a £30 million UK-wide competition intended “to spark a tech revolution in countryside communities and help rural Britain seize the opportunities of 5G technology.”

Up to ten rural locations will be chosen to run innovative trials of 5G applications and stimulate commercial investment in 5G technology which offers mobile speeds 10 to 20 times faster than previous generations.

The Rural Connected Communities competition is the latest wave of £200 million funding to pioneer 5G testbeds across the country and deliver the benefits of the highest speeds of mobile connectivity available.

The competition closes on 25 October and you can find out more information here.

Winchester provides free Growth Hub Business Clinic

Winchester City Council has teamed up with The Enterprise M3 Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) Growth Hub to provide a day of free business support with one to one business growth clinics for businesses located across the Winchester District.

These confidential clinics are designed for established companies looking to grow their business in areas including exploration of new markets, increasing their workforce and developing innovation.

The bespoke meetings provide access to a business mentor with detailed knowledge and experience of working with high growth businesses.

Sessions must be pre-booked for the Winchester session taking place on Wednesday 25 September. Anyone interested should call 01483 478098 or contact

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.

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.

Borderlands Deal moves closer

In July 2019, Ministers of the UK and Scottish Governments and the Leaders of the five councils of the Borderlands Partnership signed off the ‘Heads of Terms’ for the £394.5million Borderlands Inclusive Growth Deal. £350m from the UK and Scottish Governments and £44.5m from the local authorities.

The signing of the formal agreement, which took place at the Mountain Bike Centre of Scotland at Glentress in the Scottish Borders, is a major step towards the funding of agreed projects and programmes put forward by the Partnership to the two governments.

The Borderlands Partnership consists of Carlisle City Council, Cumbria County Council, Dumfries and Galloway Council, Northumberland County Council, Scottish Borders Council.

Specific funding has been confirmed for some projects, subject to full business cases, including £8 million for a Dairy Innovation Centre in Dumfries and Galloway, £10 million to support natural capital innovation across the Borderlands region, £19 million for the Mountain Biking Innovation Centre in the Borders, £15 million for Carlisle Station in Cumbria and £5 million for Alnwick Garden in Northumberland. In the South of Scotland, £31 million will develop tourist attractions, £20 million will enhance the quality of rural places, £15.5 million will enhance business infrastructure and £7 million will develop key skills needed to boost the visitor economy. A feasibility study into the extension of the Borders Railway from Carlisle to Tweedbank will also be funded by both governments to the tune of £10 million.

The Deal will also mean an investment of £31m in green energy projects, with much needed improvements in digital and mobile connectivity across the region. The importance of local towns will be the focus of a place investment programme linked to Destination and Business Infrastructure investments.

You can keep track of progress on the Deal via this link.

Government responds to Lords Rural Economy report

The government has formally responded to the report, ‘Time for a strategy for the rural economy,’ published by the House of Lords Select Committee on the Rural Economy earlier this year.

In the response, the government rejects the call for a comprehensive Rural Strategy, preferring to continue to focus on ‘rural proofing’ as the mechanism to try to ensure rural policy takes proper account of rural communities and their economies. This is something many national and local organisations will be scrutinising closely over the coming months.

You can read both the original report and the full government response via this link.

However, conference delegates at the recent national Rural Conference came out 100% in favour of asking Government to think again about its reticence over taking action on behalf of rural communities.

Speaking at the conclusion of the conference, RSN chair Councillor Cecilia Motley said: “The breadth and depth of the commitment from organisations from across all spectrums of the rural agenda for a rural strategy is massively borne out by the discussions and actions today. We have a wide body of grass roots support and in Parliament and other places. I hope on the strength of this that we will be able to convince Government to revisit its thinking and agree with us about the crucial importance of a national rural strategy.”

Get your business ready for Brexit

The Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy has advice available for businesses preparing for Brexit. You can access the relevant information via this link.

Government consults on National Food Strategy

Government is asking for ideas and evidence to help transform our food system. They want to hear ideas from anyone, including:

  • Producers
  • Practitioners
  • interested citizens

They also want to hear from people in devolved administrations or abroad.

The responses will shape recommendations and actions for government to consider.

This National Food Strategy will apply to England only. The final report of the review is due in summer 2020.

You can access the full consultation documentation via this link. The deadline for any submissions is 25 October 2019.

Statistical digest of rural England published

Official statistics concerning rural England are published regularly by Defra. The latest August 2019 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 June 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 December 2019.  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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