Norfolk leads the rural fightback, conference in King’s Lynn will hear today

Costlier fuel and more expensive groceries are just two of the ways in which people living in rural areas end up paying more for goods and services. But Norfolk is leading the way when it comes to tackling issues affecting far-flung communities, a conference in King's Lynn will hear today.

Earlier this year, the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) launched a nationwide consultation into the issues facing businesses and consumers in remote areas.

Its findings are due to be published this afternoon, at a conference at Lynn Corn Exchange.

Around half a million people live in remote areas in the UK, the OFT estimates.

It said those who responded to its call for evidence raised concerns about high fuel and grocery prices, limited or high cost delivery services, inadequate public transport, slow internet speeds and poor mobile coverage.

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Overall, the OFT found that higher prices and limited choice in these areas can result from low sales volumes and weak competition, with some businesses having local monopolies.

Where local markets can only sustain a limited number of suppliers it can be difficult for consumers to get the benefits of sustained competition.

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But as it focussed on a number of remote areas, including the Scottish islands, Northumberland and County Tyrone, it emerged that work was already under way in Norfolk to address some of the problems highlighted by consumers.

OFT director Kyla Brand said: 'We are launching today in Norfolk – as the county is a good example of where issues affecting the rural population are being identified and attempts are being made to be tackle these issues.

'The call for evidence has shown how problems of price, choice and access to goods and services mount up for consumers and businesses in remote areas. We can now explain how joined up approaches can succeed in making markets work well – or at least better - for those in remote areas.

'There is no quick-fix solution within the OFT's powers but we have a part to play, alongside businesses, communities and government bodies.

'We have taken, and will continue to take, action ourselves to address these concerns and will share our report with government departments, local authorities, community groups and others to help ensure that this consultation informs policy discussions. It will also to shape OFT future work, across our full range of powers.'

Harry Humphrey, Norfolk County Council's cabinet member for community protection, said: 'I am pleased that the OFT has recognised that Norfolk supports its rural and remote communities well and as such has chosen to launch the findings of this related study in our county.

'We use Norfolk's perceived remoteness to our advantage, as the perception that a visitor is getting away from it all is a major reason why our tourism industry is worth over �2.6bn each year.

'However, living in a rural community offers significant challenges, for both residents and businesses.

'As I live in a remote community myself I am acutely aware of the cost of such things as travel, heating oil and access to some of the facilities taken for granted in most urban communities.'

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