The NFU is saying that a new, ambitious and revolutionary approach is needed to ensure the Government’s levelling up agenda recognises the value of rural Britain. This follows a roundtable hosted by the thinktank Onward, which outlined the economic and societal gains to be made.
Some of the key points discussed and outlined in a series of essays were:
- Rural proofing: the underlying matter of many rural challenges is how policy makers account for rural issues in the decision making process. Contributors to the discussion agreed that current rural proofing is not sufficient due to being siloed in one department. Instead, the creation of a dedicated strategy was proposed and supported by participants to ensure that rural matters are considered from the outset.
- Broadband provision: access to sufficient mobile and broadband is key for future growth but contributors highlighted that this is currently far from universal. Digital infrastructure must be extended if rural communties are to ‘level up’. The right funding would allow areas to deliver more green growth and jobs, benefit farming businesses and the wider rural community, boost the economy and making producing, quality, sustainable food easier.
- Investment in diversification: 65% of farm businesses in England run other enterprises such as farm shops, camp sites, wedding venues and B&Bs. These businesses are extremely valuable to the social fabric of our country as well as the economy, generating more than £740 million in 2019, with the potential to deliver more. Therefore, it is important that these businesses have clarity about future access to funding.
NFU president Minette Batters 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 – work 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, Onward’s deputy director, 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.”