The NFU has teamed up with not-for-profit political thinktank Onward to discuss the role of rural Britain in the government's levelling up agenda.
In May, we supported a roundtable meeting hosted by Onward to outline the gains that can be made for both the economy and society by recognising and harnessing the value of rural Britain.
The event was held under the Chatham House Rule, which meant it could not be reported and all comments made have been anonymised.
The discussion has now been summarised in a report we've produced with Onward which you can download and read here: The rural economy and levelling up. The report includes opinions from three of the MPs who attended the meeting.
What rural issues were discussed?
Some of the key areas discussed and outlined include:
- Rural proofing: The underlying matter at the crux of many rural challenges is how policy-makers account for rural issues in their decision-making process. Contributors to the discussion agreed that current rural proofing is not sufficient due to its being siloed in one department. Instead, the creation of a dedicated strategy was proposed and supported by participants in order to ensure that rural matters are considered from the outset.
- Broadband provision: Access to sufficient mobile and broadband is key for future growth, but the participants highlighted that it’s still far from universal. Digital infrastructure must be extended if rural communities are to level up. With the right funding for connectivity, rural areas can deliver more green growth and jobs, benefit farming businesses and the wider rural community, boost the national economy and make producing quality, sustainable British food easier.
- Investment in diversification: 65% of all farm businesses in England run other enterprises such as farm shops, camp sites, wedding venues and B&Bs, and rural businesses. These businesses are extremely valuable to the social fabric of our country as well as the economy, generating more than £740 million in 2019, and have the potential to deliver more. Therefore, it is important that these businesses have clarity as to their future access to funds.
NFU President Minette Batters, pictured above, said:
“Currently, a lot of rural communities feel they are being left behind. We need to ensure that government policy – whether it’s affordable housing, planning, health, education or transport – works well for everyone, in urban and rural environments alike.
“Farming – and rural Britain – can provide solutions to many of the challenges we face, from green growth and climate change mitigation to improving the health and wellbeing of our nation by the food we produce, while contributing more than £120 billion to the national economy.
“And there is so much more rural Britain, and the farm businesses that lie at its heart, can deliver for the nation. The government’s levelling up agenda is an opportunity for a revolutionary approach to rural Britain; one that maximises the potential of a community which plays such a core role in our national prosperity.”
Will Holloway, deputy director at Onward, said:
“The government has rightly committed to increasing opportunity right across the country. Each area faces different challenges. Ensuring that opportunities are increased in rural areas as well as towns and cities will be crucial to national success.
“A one size fits all approach would limit that success. Ministers across government should address the sum of the challenges facing rural Britain, from digital connectivity to skills and training to infrastructure investment.”