LORDS

Time for a strategy for the rural economy says Lords Committee

bridge, countryside
27 April 2019

The House of Lords Select Committee on the Rural Economy has today called on the Government to develop a rural strategy and help realise the potential of rural economies.

Chair's Comments

The Chair of the Committee, Lord Foster of Bath, said:

"Rural communities and the economies in them have been ignored and underrated for too long. We must act now to reverse this trend, but we can no longer allow the clear inequalities between the urban and rural to continue unchecked. A rural strategy would address challenges and realise potential in struggling and under-performing areas, and allow vibrant and thriving areas to develop further. Doing nothing is not an option."

Key recommendations

The report sets out a range of recommendations across different policy areas to tackle the challenges facing the rural economy.

Rural strategy

  • Rural economies are facing significant opportunities and challenges. Issues including the UK's impending departure from the EU, cuts to local authorities’ budgets, digital connectivity, affordable housing, and an ageing rural population make this an ideal moment for the Government to develop a comprehensive rural strategy, to set out its ambition for rural areas
  • The Government needs to rethink and reform the rural proofing process to ensure that relevant policies and legislation are attuned to the needs of rural communities and rural economies
  • Local Government and other public bodies should develop their own local rural strategies consistent with the Government framework, and be responsible and accountable for their implementation.

Rural delivery and place-based approaches

  • For a national strategy and its underlying policies to be effective, it is crucial that they are delivered locally using a place-based approach. This must include effective partnership working from all relevant public, private and voluntary bodies, driven by the nature of each local area and with active community participation, breaking down the silos that too often characterise rural policy
  • The Government must bring forward the consultation on the Shared Prosperity Fund as soon as possible and give much more information on its proposed scope to enable rural businesses and communities to begin planning for the future
  • The Fair Funding Review must ensure that rural local authorities are properly compensated for the additional costs of service provision, and that rural areas are fairly treated in future funding settlements
  • National and local Government should review their procurement policies to ensure that small and local organisations have the genuine ability to bid for the delivery of services

Digital connectivity

  • Government should direct Ofcom to conduct a review of the Universal Services Obligation as soon as possible, focusing on what minimum commitment would be needed to sustain and support rural businesses and communities, especially in remoter areas, and including both download and upload speeds
  • Ofcom should also re-assess the £3,400 payment threshold so that rural homes and businesses are not excluded. This must include consideration of home workers and businesses operating from home in remote areas
  • We welcome the proposal that Ofcom should review the option of introducing roaming in rural areas to address partial not-spots and would urge them to begin this review as a matter of urgency. Government and Ofcom should also encourage mobile network operators to share transmission masts more often in appropriate rural locations

Housing and planning

  • Government should provide a full and comprehensive exemption for all rural areas from the policy to limit affordable housing contributions on small sites
  • Government should consider suspending the local authority Right to Buy or making it voluntary for local authorities in specific locations, to ensure that much-needed affordable housing is not lost where it would be difficult or impractical to replace it
  • Government should revisit the merits of a spatial plan for England, particularly as it relates to rural areas, to ensure that planning policy operates in a framework where land use priorities are properly considered above the local level.

Skills and business support

  • The Government should review the impact that the revaluation and current multiplier levels for business rates are having on rural businesses. There is also an urgent need to review the impact of small business and rural rate relief provisions on rural pubs, local shops and other businesses
  • The Government should investigate whether the current tax system is putting off farmers and rural small businesses from investing in diversification. As part of its review into tenancy agreements, the Government should also address restrictions on tenant farmers that may prevent diversification

Local service delivery

  • Government should undertake a full review of funding streams to rural public transport. The aspiration should be to develop a "single transport investment pot" that could be used to better support rural transport using a place-based approach
  • More needs to be done by Government to better understand, track and respond to rural criminality
  • Government must ensure that the challenges and costs of providing health services in rural areas are properly reflected in funding allocations to Clinical Commissioning Groups

Further information

Image: Ian Medcalf (Creative Commons)

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