Time to ‘level up’ all parts of UK, says new report

The New Local Government Network has identified Cornwall and other rural areas as the UK’s ‘Land of Opportunity’ and says now is the time to ‘level up’ all parts of the UK.

A large part of the UK’s regional investment and infrastructure funding is focused on London and other major urban areas, with rural and coastal areas often left behind. Following December’s General Election, the government renewed its focus on investing in underdeveloped towns, but with a scattered rural population and very few highly populated towns, it is not clear to what extent places such as Cornwall stand to benefit.

The Land of Opportunity: England’s Rural Periphery report, published alongside Cornwall Council, explores how England’s rural and coastal areas could help build a stronger national economy. The government has acknowledged that adopting a one-size-fits-all approach to economic development in all parts of the country does not work.

The report says that the UK is at its best when all parts of the country ‘work and strive together for common goals’. Other opportunities for local and national government collaboration include: the creation of a new rural social mobility fund – to improve the life chances and opportunities of residents; employment and skills devolution to Cornwall; and improvements to transport infrastructure outside England’s policy corridor – not only will this improve access to and reduce the costs of vital local services in rural areas, but it will also contribute to the reduction of transport disadvantage and to greater social and economic inclusion.

NLGN also calls for an end to the flawed practice of rural-proofing – the process by which DEFRA seeks to ensure that departments across government assess the impact of their policies on rural areas.

Julian German, Cornwall Council leader, said: “Harnessing the opportunity of rural areas like Cornwall must be a key part of levelling up all parts of the UK. Unlocking a new economy that delivers prosperity for the whole country must begin with understanding the missed opportunities associated with treating rural areas as just a peripheral concern.

“We need to reframe our view of rural areas, not as hinterlands to which benefits are hoped to trickle down, not as an afterthought when it comes to investment and opportunities, but as places to build resilient local economies and communities that contribute to the UK economy. That’s why we’ve taken the lead in establishing a new collaboration of 12 local authorities - Britain’s Leading Edge - of largely or mainly rural areas without major cities. Cornwall Council and other local communities are ready and eager to work with the government to develop plans that accelerate growth and prosperity for the benefit of all.”