House of Lords recommends a new approach to the rural economy

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The Rural Economy Select Committee report ‘Time for a strategy for the rural economy’ says that government policies which were largely devised for urban and suburban economies are simply often inappropriate for rural areas.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the main areas of concern that emerged were lack of digital connectivity and affordable housing, loss of basic services such as banks, buses and shops, and health and social isolation. In particular, the digital revolution has the ability, properly managed, to transform the rural economy, reverse years of underperformance and improve the quality of life not just for those living in rural areas, but for the nation generally. Residents of rural Norfolk, the fifth largest county in England, understand the issues well –  fifty-three per-cent of the population live in rural locations.

A wide range of experts in rural affairs were consulted, leading to the report emphasising the need for a strategy that makes the best of the capabilities, knowledge and diversity of those who live and work in the countryside. The main recommendation calls for a nationally co-ordinated rural economic approach, delivered locally via communities, councils and businesses.

Dereham-based charity Community Action Norfolk has long been engaged in helping and supporting local voluntary groups to develop projects that help their communities thrive and survive.

Chief Executive Jon Clemo says: ‘The report clearly endorses what we already know - that voluntary organisations often play a critical role in rural communities, not only in the provision of services such as health and social care, but also in developing initiatives to support local economies. So we welcome the findings of the report that recommend a co-ordinated, coherent government policy that will address rural issues in a constructive way.’

‘The issues are not new but the resources available to address them are increasingly limited. Here at Community Action Norfolk we have many years’ experience in working with public and voluntary sector partners to meet those needs in the most realistically effective and efficient ways possible. We often express our collaborative goal as ensuring fair outcomes for everyone regardless of who they are or where they live in Norfolk - and that’s endorsed in the report’s assertion that ‘No resident or business should be disadvantaged unreasonably by their rural location.’’

The House of Lords’ report also recommends a workable rural-proofing strategy in ensuring that general government policy does not impact rural areas adversely. CAN devised a rural proofing model which has been adopted by Norfolk County Council several years ago, but a government-supported approach is welcomed in giving national direction and support. Whilst the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has overarching responsibility for rural matters, many other government departments and agencies have responsibility for issues that impact on rural economies and the Lords’ report is addressed to government as a whole rather than just one department.

Read the complete document here