Time for a strategy for the rural economy

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

In a new report, the committee sets out a range of recommendations across different policy areas to tackle the challenges facing the rural economy. 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.

The paper suggests that the government 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. Furthermore, 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.

For a national strategy and its underlying policies to be effective, it is crucial that they are delivered locally using a place-based approach. The Lords committee says 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 should also 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.

Lord Foster of Bath, chair of the committee, 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."