The Countryside Alliance political team has sent an update on our work in Parliament and wider...Read more
In November we reported on the launch of an inquiry by the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Rural Business and the Rural Powerhouse into the impact of spiralling living costs in rural areas. We participated by responding to its consultation, and this week saw it conclude with the publication of its report, The Rural Premium: Exploring the impact of the cost-of-living crisis in rural areas.
Setting current inflation rates in the context of the CovID-19 pandemic and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and with rural productivity running at 19% lower than the UK average, the report makes clear that rural areas are in several respects suffering the worst. Examples of what it terms the ‘rural premium’ include lack of access to the lowest-cost food and resulting reductions in purchasing power, lack of access to cash arising from closures of banks and post offices, and higher costs of transport.
Transport is the subject of the Report’s first use of evidence from the Countryside Alliance submission. As The Telegraph also reported, it quotes our 2022 research showing that rural households spend almost £800 a year more on fuel than people who live in urban areas, and spend up to 6 pence per litre more for petrol. Defra figures suggest rural life necessitates longer journeys, with an average travelling distance per resident at 5,767 miles in 2020, compared with 3,624 miles for urban dwellers and 4,334 miles across England as a whole. As well as campaigning for improved public transport options in rural areas we have called for an urgent VAT cut on road fuel; while the APPG has not adopted that suggestion it does recommend that the Rural Fuel Duty Relief scheme be extended.
The report goes on to quote our warnings as to the impact of inflation on village shops and broader rural enterprises. We raised the:
“risk to small local shops, farm shops and craft producers operating with higher production costs if consumers, having less disposable income, are forced to substitute cheaper, mass-produced goods and shop at larger discounted stores”,
“the impact of rising energy prices, general inflation and reduced disposable incomes on the viability of rural businesses that target discretionary spending, such as those in the tourism and hospitality sectors”.
Our concern over threats to rural businesses, coupled with our awareness of the critical role they can play in their communities, continues to inspire our promotion of the Countryside Alliance Awards, whose UK National Champions will be announced at our Champions’ Reception at the House of Lords in May.
The last of our contributions that the report picks up on concerns housing, which in rural areas imposes challenges of both affordability and availability. As we stated in another quoted passage,
“The need for more housing stock is not just an issue in towns and cities. Many rural areas are also suffering from a lack of housing, especially affordable housing. That shortage is one of the greatest challenges for communities across the country, including in rural areas.”
The APPG has therefore called on the Government to draw up a dedicated rural housing strategy, including building targets for rural homes for sale and affordable rent, across rural communities over the coming decade.
We are grateful to the APPG for remaining alive to the hardships rural communities are facing, for its efforts to highlight these in Westminster and with the Government and for its identification of a set of positive suggestions for tackling them. We are pleased to have had the opportunity to contribute.