Call for action to fix growing 'productivity gap' in rural villages

Cath Crowther, East regional director for the Country Land and Business Association (CLA East) pictured with a rural scene

Cath Crowther, East regional director for the Country Land and Business Association (CLA East), is calling for government action to fix a 'productivity gap' in rural areas - Credit: Archant / Mike Page

East Anglia's rural economy is being held back by a lack of affordable housing, poor digital connectivity and disjointed government policy, says a new report. 

An inquiry into rural productivity was launched by MPs and peers on the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for the Rural Powerhouse.

They found the rural economy was 18pc less productive than the national average, and reducing this gap could boost England's economy by £43bn.

The report outlines 27 recommendations aimed at improving the planning and tax systems, accelerating broadband and mobile data improvements, and boosting investment in farming and rural skills.

"The urgency of improving infrastructure - particularly the delivery of full fibre broadband, 4G and 5G, and electrical connectivity - cannot be understated, but so often the rural economy is held back by poor planning policy, a minimalist skills agenda and an overly complex tax regime," it says.

The report also says rural matters are often "falling between the cracks of Whitehall departments" and calls for the formation of  a "cross-departmental ministerial-led committee" to identify "quick win" policy changes. 

Those calls were echoed by Cath Crowther, East regional director for the Country Land and Business Association (CLA), who said: "There are 'oven-ready' actions that the government can take right away without having to invest huge amounts of money to fix that productivity gap in rural areas.

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"We want ministers to move away from seeing the countryside as a museum and start seeing it as the economic powerhouse it could be, with the right policy levers."

Mrs Crowther said building affordable housing was critical if more jobs were to be created in the countryside.

"It seems mad that you cannot get planning permission for a few sensitively designed homes on the edge of a village," she said. "We don't want to see the countryside concreted over with inappropriate developments, but we need affordable homes so businesses can improve the rural economy."

She added that connectivity was also a priority - not only for broadband and mobile data services, but also for electrical connections.

"We have lots of members who have been prevented from doing renewable energy projects because they cannot export to the grid," she said.

Rural affairs minister Richard Benyon said rural areas are "at the heart of our vision for levelling up", and that funding was being provided for infrastructure and public services.

"We have already announced over £2.6bn via the UK Shared Prosperity Fund, and we will be saying more about rural funding shortly," he said.