'Revolutionary' policies will level up rural areas, NFU says

The government’s levelling up agenda must recognise the value of rural areas, the NFU says
The government’s levelling up agenda must recognise the value of rural areas, the NFU says

The government must be 'revolutionary' in its approach to levelling up rural Britain as many communities continue to feel left behind, the NFU has said.

The union said policies which covered affordable housing, planning, health, education and transport must 'work well for everyone', not just for urban areas.

It comes after a roundtable was recently hosted by the thinktank Onward and supported by the NFU, which outlined the economic and societal gains to be made.

The underlying matter at the crux of many rural challenges was how policy-makers account for rural issues in their decision-making process, the roundtable found.

Contributors to the discussion agreed that current rural proofing was not sufficient due to its being siloed in one department.

Instead, the creation of a dedicated strategy was proposed and supported by participants in order to ensure that rural matters are considered from the outset.

Another issue covered was broadband provision. Access to sufficient mobile and broadband is key for future rural growth, but the participants highlighted that it was far from universal.

They said that with the right funding for connectivity, rural areas could deliver more green growth and jobs, while benefitting farming businesses and the wider rural community.

The roundtable event also said that diversified farming businesses must have more clarity on their future access to funds.

Nearly two thirds of all farm businesses in England run other enterprises such as farm shops, camp sites, wedding venues and B&Bs, and rural businesses.

Following the discussion, NFU President Minette Batters explained that a lot of rural communities across the country felt they were being left behind.

“Farming – and rural Britain – can provide solutions to many of the challenges we face, from green growth and climate change mitigation to improving the health and wellbeing of our nation by the food we produce," she said.

“The government’s levelling up agenda is an opportunity for a revolutionary approach to rural Britain; one that maximises the potential of a community which plays such a core role in our national prosperity.”

Will Holloway, Onward’s deputy director, added that the government had 'rightly committed' to increasing opportunity across the country.

But he said that ensuring opportunities were increased in rural areas as well as towns and cities would be crucial to national success.

“Ministers across government should address the sum of the challenges facing rural Britain, from digital connectivity to skills and training to infrastructure investment.”