Rural groups demand more support as pandemic worsens

The Covid-19 pandemic has brought into focus a number of rural vulnerabilities, the Rural Coalition warns
The Covid-19 pandemic has brought into focus a number of rural vulnerabilities, the Rural Coalition warns

More government help is needed to level-up the countryside to support the UK's economic recovery from the pandemic, rural groups have said.

The government has been urged to commit to more equitable funding in rural areas as the Covid-19 crisis in the UK worsens.

Harsher restrictions were unveiled on Tuesday (22 September) in all four UK nations, with the Prime Minister warning that they could last up to six months.

Pubs, restaurants and other hospitality venues will have to close by 22:00 BST, Boris Johnson announced.

But the Rural Coalition, which consists of 13 rural groups, said farmers and countryside businesses faced challenges of 'sparsity, remoteness and poor connectivity'.

Its new report Rebuilding Rural: Growing Back Better sets out priorities for a successful recovery by seizing the potential social and economic opportunities.

Rural areas are home to 9.3 million people – more than Greater London – but they have long faced a history of unequal funding and patchy service delivery.

Some communities which are heavily dependent on tourism and seasonal work are now at risk of being left further behind.

The Rural Coalition said that the Covid-19 crisis had 'exposed weaknesses in the narrow economic base of some of these areas'.

However, it also highlighted opportunities for rural economies to make a recovery through a 'programme of investment'.

The groups have urged a levelling-up of access to good quality jobs, homes, education and health services in rural areas with fair funding for public services

A more resilient rural economy is also needed - more investment in skills, retraining and digital infrastructure, to attract new firms to the area and increase economic diversity.

Finally, more support is needed in helping the countryside become net-zero by capitalising on opportunities for green rural growth.

Chair of the Rural Coalition, Margaret Clark said the pandemic had brought into focus a number of rural vulnerabilities.

"How we plan for building back better offers a once-in-a-generation opportunity to address these issues but also to unlock the potential of rural areas to make a significant contribution to the nation’s economic recovery and ensure no one is left behind.”

Members of the Rural Coalition include the NFU, the Country Land and Business Association (CLA) and the CPRE, the countryside charity, among others.