The chancellor and the environment secretary have outlined plans for focusing on rural Britain and helping business growth there.
Writing in The Telegraph, Osborne noted that according to latest government figures, predominantly rural areas in England are experiencing net internal inward migration of more than 60,000 a year. As a result, a rural productivity plan has been set out to acknowledge this and react to it.
They wrote: “For rural areas, we want better internet and mobile phone communications, better transport, better skills, better housing, better business growth and better local government.”
With information technology improvements meaning a “broader than ever choice of career for those living there”, rural areas are becoming increasingly economically diverse. Osborne also noted that home-working is growing fastest in the countryside, while there are now over 500,000 businesses registered across England’s rural areas – over 23 per cent of the total.
The rural economy is worth £210bn a year and the chancellor said delivery is on track to give 95 per cent coverage of superfast broadband by 2017, with three million premises covered so far. After enabling the auction of 4G spectrum in 2013, industry has rolled out 4G coverage to nearly 90 per cent of the UK.
Osborne and Truss estimated that if the average annual growth rate of the rural economy could increase by 0.1 per cent, this would work out at an extra £7bn to the rural economy by 2030. They have pledged to invest £100bn in “world-class infrastructure that will not only connect rural businesses to towns and cities in the UK, but to those around the world too”.
They cited the recent county deal with Cornwall, and said a further aim will be to devolve more power. A frequently-cited barrier to growth among rural businesses has been planning restrictions and the government will review rules around agricultural buildings like barns, to ease the way for expansion among rural businesses.
Also new on the agenda will be encouraging rural areas to apply to become Enterprise Zones for the first time. Established in 2012, these zones have given businesses based there benefits including simplified local authority planning, enhanced capital allowances and business rate discount.
Osborne said he “will work on how best to get superfast broadband to those that are successful”. In an effort to develop the skilled workforce in the countryside, he also committed to tripling the number of food and farming apprenticeships.
The government said they hoped that getting this right would mean “businesses no longer have to be tied to our towns and cities and rural communities can flourish” as a result.
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