by Jo Whiting, Senior Development Officer – Communities and Rural Issues
I attended National ACRE’s public conference last month, which aimed to examine the economic challenges facing rural communities, showcase how businesses can thrive away from big cities – and hear how rural councils around the country are helping to drive social enterprise and innovation through the development of sustainable community benefit projects.
We heard from 11 speakers, who gave their own unique take on the rural economy and took questions from the floor. Along with informative presentations from political figures including Lord De Mauley Conservative Minister Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Huw Irranca-Davies MP, Shadow Minister, and Julie Girling MEP, Conservative MEP for South West England, were examples of successful projects in practice from RCCs and community group leaders across the country.
Particularly inspiring were three dynamic creative industry entrepreneurs who had chosen to locate in rural or semi-rural locations and who felt that this decision had positively affected their business and employees, but that they had concerns about attracting future talent away from the cities. The common primary operating obstacle proved to be broadband access and speed, which in once case almost contributed to a forced relocation.
Broadband continued to be a running theme and widespread concern for the day, and the lack of superfast broadband in rural areas was cited as the biggest barrier to economic growth. Rural England contributes an annual £400bn to the national economy. 70% of the workforce in rural areas work in micro businesses across growth industry areas such as retail, manufacturing and technology. There is widespread agreement that Government needs to recognise this across local, regional and national policies to invest in broadband and mobile infrastructure and take steps to avoid further inequality by making access to high speed internet a priority for us all.