Yesterday (14 Dec) Countryside Alliance Head of Policy, Sarah Lee, took part in an oral evidence session as part of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (EFRA) Select Committee inquiry into rural tourism.
MPs asked a range of questions to Sarah and representatives from the NFU and CLA on how the Government can support rural tourism and rural businesses in general.
Sarah stressed the need to create a “365 day tourism season” and highlighted the role that shooting and other country sports play in achieving this by getting people into the countryside in what is usually the ‘off-season’ for many rural tourist businesses.
Sarah went on to comment on the reasons why rural businesses often struggle and what can be done to help, including the need to improve mobile and broadband connectivity, create financial incentives through tax breaks and foster greater collaboration amongst agencies that promote rural tourism.
“lack of broadband is holding back rural businesses from competing locally, nationally and internationally – its unfair and unacceptable”.
Asked specifically about Ofcom’s proposals to separate Openreach from BT Group, Sarah stated: “The proposal could lead to greater competition, but it is going to take several years to separate BT and Openreach, which should not distract us all from the rollout of broadband to those communities which are receiving a poor level of service, who need connectivity now”. Committee Chair, Neil Parish, recognised that this was a serious issues for all rural businesses and indicated that the EFRA Committee may establish an inquiry into rural broadband.
Sarah also stated: “We need to make ourselves more competitive – looking at reducing VAT and other tax incentives to provide a financial incentive for rural tourism… There is also a greater need for collaboration across government and those agencies responsible for supporting tourism, particularly Destination Management Organisations.”
Sarah pointed to examples where proper promotion of rural businesses can lead to success including the role of the Countryside Alliance Awards where rural businesses nominated for an award, which this year includes a tourist enterprise award, see have seen foot fall “increase by ten fold”.
The evidence given to the Committee was in addition to our written evidence which stresses the important role that hunting, fishing and shooting play in generating income and tourist numbers in our rural communities.
The Committee evidence sessions will continue in the New Year.