MPs launch inquiry seeking ways to boost rural economy

The inquiry wants to hear from those living and working in rural areas, including farmers
The inquiry wants to hear from those living and working in rural areas, including farmers

A cross-party group of MPs and peers has launched a new inquiry that wants to explore ways to boost the UK rural economy post-pandemic.

The inquiry will explore why rural productivity is 18% below the national average and identify solutions to help bridge the divide.

The All Party Parliamentary Group for Rural Business will focus on digital connectivity, the planning system, land use, rural skills and the tax system.

The APPG is seeking written evidence from the rural economy, including from the farming sector, and will run oral evidence sessions through the year.

MP Julian Sturdy, who will co-chair the inquiry, said it was 'critical' to understand why this productivity disparity existed between urban and rural areas.

“There are over 500,000 rural businesses across England and Wales, and together they form the backbone of the rural economy," he explained.

“We encourage rural organisations and businesses to get in touch with their ideas.”

Lord Cameron of Dillington, who is co-chair of the APPG, said that levelling up the country was a 'key part' of the government's agenda.

"As we emerge from the global pandemic, we must find new ways to create jobs and prosperity – ensuring opportunity finds its way into all rural communities.

“It’s important that we hear from those living and working in these rural areas so that we can discover what more can be done to grow the rural economy.”

The Country Land & Business Association (CLA), which represents 28,000 farmers and rural businesses in England and Wales, is supporting the inquiry.

It said that closing the rural productivity gap would add £43 billion to the UK economy, in turn creating hundreds of thousands of skilled jobs.

Mark Bridgeman, president of the CLA said: “The reasons for the countryside’s lower productivity are complex.

"Key contributors are poor digital connectivity, an outdated planning systems, unnecessary bureaucracy and decades of underinvestment.

"But none of these can be improved without political engagement.”