THE BLOG

Investing In The Countryside

22/12/2016 14:31

What will life be like for people living and working in the countryside in the year 2030? As the impacts of climate change become increasingly obvious, as the population grows and as technologies develop, there is both opportunity and need for change.

Add the plethora of uncertainties for farming and land management in the wake of the vote for Brexit, and the coming decade could bring considerable developments not only in how the countryside operates, but also in the role it plays within the nation as a whole.

One thing that I am certain will remain constant is the importance of businesses that are based on rural land. These businesses employ hundreds of thousands of people and new CLA research shows they invest £13billion into the economy each year. Farming underpins this sector, providing food for the country and enhancing the environment. Alongside agriculture, other types of enterprise on rural land are playing an increasingly important part in countryside communities and the economy more widely - from farm shops, glamping and holiday cottages to equine stables, leisure pursuits and housing provision.

This diversification is helping rural businesses to ensure they maintain long-term resilience in the face of so many unpredictable factors - extreme weather, pests and diseases, worldwide agricultural market volatility, and government policy to name but a few.

Unlocking Investment, Unlocking Potential is a new CLA report which details some of the most interesting opportunities for rural businesses to invest for the future, such as providing hyperfast broadband and renewable energy to their local communities. However, the right conditions must be in place if opportunities like this are to be harnessed.

I am challenging the Government and rural businesses alike to think differently about how to unlock business growth in the rural economy. This challenge is especially important given the urban focus of announcements in the Autumn Statement - overwhelmingly targeted at improving facilities within, and connections between, towns and cities.

It's hard to see how rural businesses fit in to the Chancellors' vision for Britain's economic future. Yet the vast majority are small family businesses, acting as the lifeblood of rural communities as well as the stewards of our landscapes and rural environment. I really do believe the rural economy is the Cinderella of the national economy. Beautiful but often misunderstood, neither fully appreciated nor as productive as we could be. Private investment can help sustain the rural economy through Brexit and Ministers and businesses in the countryside both need to start thinking differently about how government policy interacts with rural business ambitions.

The CLA has pinpointed specific actions that the Government and rural businesses should take to help the rural economy grow. I want to see the Government make regulatory changes that allow more rural businesses to enter into new markets as well as setting out a new tax roadmap for family businesses and finishing the job of reforming the planning system. And for their part, rural businesses must be proactive, make long-term plans and embrace change to create new incomes and improve their resilience.

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