Rural firms need help to enable growth

FOUR in five rural businesses are embracing the digital economy – but many say lack of training and skills is hampering their growth.

E-commerce plays a big role in helping rural businesses to export, with 80% using digital tools and services to trade goods and services around the world.

But more than half of rural businesses say recruiting people with appropriate tech skills and accessing training for their workforce is a barrier to digital adoption.

  See also: Help unlock rural Britain's digital potential

The findings were uncovered in new study undertaken by think tank Rural England – for which the Rural Services Network provides the secretariat – and Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC).

The study was commissioned by internet giant Amazon.

A consultation of over 800 rural businesses found that almost four-in-five rural business owners believe digital tools and services are important to their growth potential.

Cloud computing is seen as the biggest driver (62%) followed by 5G mobile networks (54%), the Internet of Things (47%) and Machine Learning/Artificial Intelligence (26%).

  Big role

Rural business owners who export say e-commerce plays a big role, with 80% using digital tools and services to trade goods and services abroad.

Rural England chair of directors Brian Wilson said the ambition and willingness of rural businesses to embrace new technology was striking.

“While connectivity remains a concern, it is clear that more needs to be done beyond this in terms of more proactive support and skills development,” he said.

“We need a clear roadmap for fulfilling that potential - something we hope the final report will identify when published.”

Some 43% of all rural businesses specifically sell online through their own site or via a third party site.

The top two sectors using e-commerce are retail (80%) and the accommodation & food sector (71%), according to the study.

  Expand productivity

Amazon UK country manager Doug Gurr said: “Rural businesses are typically family-run, home-based, owned by people aged over 55 years old and employing fewer than ten people.”

These were exactly the type of businesses that can gain from using digital technology to expand their productivity, he added:

“Every day, we see digital technology levelling the playing field between businesses operating in urban and rural parts of the country, whether that’s exporting locally produced goods or using cloud computing to scale their business.”

Rural England and the SRUC will publish their final report – Unlocking the Digital Potential of Rural Areas – in 2018.

More information is available on Rural England’s website.


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