In their response to today’s Budget speech, the Countryside Alliance have welcomed proposals to invest a further £500million per year in expanding apprenticeships/T-levels. However, they have raised concerns about the impact that proposed business rate changes could have in rural areas. Though supportive of the Chancellor’s announcements to invest further in the extension of full fibre broadband to more homes, caution has been expressed that some rural areas could be left behind.

The Countryside Alliance has welcomed the Government’s commitment to technical training. The Chancellor announced that the Government will be conducting an overhaul of post-16 education. The multibillion pound drive to improve technical training will be funded by the Treasury. It is thought that Treasury funding for the new regime will be approximately £500million per year.

The Alliance is committed to ensuring technical skills are valued and are currently leading a “trailblazer” group with other organisations and employers to develop a new Gamekeeper apprenticeship. The Underkeeper course is aimed at securing the future of gamekeeping after concerns were raised by the lack of young people coming through with the skills required. Last year the Alliance learnt that the current system of apprenticeships will end in 2020, with no guarantee that gamekeeping programmes will be part of the new system of qualifications

Commenting on the Budget speech, Head of Policy at the Alliance, Sarah Lee, said:

“The Alliance welcomes the Government’s commitment to technical training in today’s Budget, the importance of vocational training and apprenticeships to the rural economy should not be underestimated. Putting technical education on the same footing as academic studies will ensure that the level of land based skills in rural areas is increased. There has been a lack of young people in rural areas coming through with the technical skills needed to support rural economies and we hope these changes will turn this around and boost technical skills in the countryside.”

Last week the Countryside Alliance spoke out against the impact that proposed changes to business rates could have on rural businesses, in particular riding schools: Countryside Alliance and MP representing five riding schools call for wholescale review of business rates proposals which threaten future of equine industry

“The Countryside Alliance welcomes the proposals announced in today’s Budget to provide additional support to small businesses to the tune of £435m. We have seen many small businesses across the country hit with business rate rises, up to as much as 300%. It is therefore welcome that the Government has listened to the hardship these rate rises would have on small businesses across the country. The Countryside Alliance welcomes the package of measures proposed and hopes that the £50 a month cap on rate rises and £300million discretionary relief fund will help to ensure that many rural businesses, such as riding schools, can continue to thrive.

“However, this is only a temporary solution and does not address the long term problem of business rates. Businesses in rural areas play an important part of the economy so we must have a system which enables them to compete fairly with web based businesses.”

The Countryside Alliance have been campaigning for a number of years for high speed broadband to be extended to all rural communities. Responding to the Chancellor’s announcement that a further £200million will be provided by the Government to get full fibre broadband to more homes and businesses and that £16million will be provided for a new 5G technology hub, Ms Lee said:

“The Countryside Alliance has long campaigned for broadband and mobile phone coverage to extend to rural areas. While progress is being made, many rural communities are still experiencing poor digital connectivity. The funding announcements of £200million to get full fibre broadband to more homes and businesses and £16 million  for a new 5G technology hub are welcome but the Government must ensure that rural areas are not forgotten.”

With regard to the Chancellor’s comments about the importance role that pubs play in communities, Ms Lee said:

“The Countryside Alliance welcomes the recognition from Government of the role that pubs play in communities. A £1000 discount for those with a rateable value below £100,000 will ensure that these important social hubs can survive. However, we need long term solutions to ensure their viability and that of all small businesses in rural areas rather than ad hoc measures. Businesses need long term certainty if they are to be able to invest and plan for the future.”

Notes:

Download the Countryside Alliance Briefing Note on the Budget debate.