Rural and urban divide continues to grow, NFU warns

Levelling up rural Britain will 'turbocharge' the green economy, NFU president Minette Batters says
Levelling up rural Britain will 'turbocharge' the green economy, NFU president Minette Batters says

The UK's rural and urban divide continues to grow in several areas including crime, connectivity and investment, the NFU warns in a new report released today.

The report, released at NFU's annual conference on Tuesday (23 February), calls for the government to take an 'ambitious and revolutionary' approach in 'levelling up' rural Britain.

It highlights how British farming and rural areas can be the solution to several challenges, particularly by driving sustainable food production and carbon neutral food.

It also showcases how rural areas are placed to help the UK's recovery post-Covid, by delivering physical and mental health through the farmed landscape.

But the report says no individual and no business should be disadvantaged by where they live or where their livelihood is based.

It highlights several areas where the rural and urban divide continues to grow, including poor access to reliable mobile coverage and adequate broadband.

The NFU says this continues to put rural areas at a disadvantage, acting as a constraint to capital investment.

Another barrier facing the countryside is rural crime, with farming businesses increasingly becoming the target of criminals in recent years.

Figures show that rural crime cost the UK £54.3 million in 2019, and rural areas continue to receive lower levels of police funding, per head of population, than urban areas.

The report also looks at the planning system, warning that it is preventing farm modernisation, diversification and home building for farm workers.

The NFU says the government’s planning White Paper offers an opportunity to reform and ensure renewal and growth can be sustained in rural areas.

Lastly, the report says the government should encourage more investment, including British investment, into the domestic food and farming industry.

In her speech today, NFU President Minette Batters will say that levelling up Britain is not just a north and south issue, but a rural and urban one.

“Investment in farming and in rural Britain not only brings about obvious benefits to food production but can have massive benefits to the whole country.

"If the past 12 months has taught us one thing, it’s that we are all in this together - and a country which levels up everyone, everywhere, is a stronger country.

“Our report highlights four principles that form the basis of a new, ambitious approach. If we get it right, it can help our whole country and everybody living within it.

“Rural Britain can deliver jobs, green growth, exports and wellbeing for a nation in recovery."

The NFU's virtual annual conference begins today and ends with the union's annual general meeting on Wednesday (24 February).