by David Bean

A briefing note from the Countryside Alliance on the Remaining Stages of the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill in the House of Commons, scheduled for Tuesday 13 December.

  • By itself this Bill would make little difference to the fortunes of rural areas because it is largely focused on setting up new frameworks for policy. Assuming it is passed, what will make the difference is how the new powers it creates are used.
  • Our briefing focuses on the major challenges to the levelling up of rural areas, also including a factual outline of the Bill’s key objectives and some consideration of pending amendments.

Countryside Alliance position

  • Funding must be apportioned fairly to rural communities, with the process of distribution rural-proofed so it serves rural communities better. The ‘place-based’ approach must recognise the diversity of our countryside and the capabilities and knowledge of those who live and work there.’ This would ensure that issues in the countryside, often more complicated than in urban areas, are tackled appropriately and, crucially, resolved.
  • Rural communities’ needs should be at the heart of policy making in government. The responsibility for promoting and embedding rural proofing should therefore sit at the heart of government in the Cabinet Office. This will ensure the necessary resources and experience required to exert influence across government.
  • Enhanced digital connectivity for rural areas is ripe for inclusion in levelling-up missions laid out under this Bill. Delivering full fibre and gigabit capable broadband to the countryside by 2025, as committed to in the 2019 Conservative General Election Manifesto, has already been watered down in 2020 so a renewed effort is essential if the government wants to meet its ambition of levelling up.
  • The current lack of broadband infrastructure serving small firms threatens the expansion of the rural economy, which is currently worth £400bn annually. The business opportunity includes 28 per cent of all UK firms and over one million small businesses.
  • Rural digital connectivity will not only allow the rural businesses to realise their potential but could play a vital part in addressing climate change by reducing damaging emissions. It will allow people to work from home, thus being less dependent on private transport.
  • That the digital skills gap costs the UK economy an estimated £63 billion a year in lost additional GDP strongly suggests the value that could be unlocked by investment in diversifying skills. When doing so, the government must ensure those skills will benefit and contribute to a green future.
  • We welcomed the permitted development rights and reduced licensing requirements that were extended to businesses to help them adapt to periods of lockdown, but we would like to see these made permanent. The government has consulted in relation to liberalising rules on town markets and moveable structures in outsides areas of premises, and should be announcing the outcome soon.
  • Lack of public transport is one of the biggest issues in the countryside. Better local transport links would not only encourage those who live and work in the area to use public transport, but also encourage holidaymakers to leave their car at home.
  • Continuing to reduce tourism VAT would help lower prices and allow businesses to increase investment, especially in the fragile coastal communities. Research by the Cut Tourism VAT campaign has found that a cut in tourism VAT would contribute an extra £4.6 billion to H M Treasury over ten years and create 121,000 jobs.

To read the briefing in full, please click here.

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