The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has published a policy document that claims economic productivity could grow faster in the countryside than in urban areas over the next decade, with a 6% rise in rural jobs, because of faster broadband and better transport infrastructure.
Defra has postulated an extra £35bn of growth over the period, with 300,000 new jobs in the offing.
It said superfast broadband roll-out, knocking out mobile phone “partial not-spots” and better transport links, including a tunnel under Stonehenge, will promote economic growth.
In July 2013, Parliament’s Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Efra) Committee slammed the government for failing the rural economy. The committee said the government had to ensure more funding was reaching areas where broadband and mobile coverage was not up to scratch.
By 2017, the government said public investment of £1.7bn will see 95% of UK premises gain access to superfast speeds. Work is going on to connect the remaining 5%.
More on IT and the rural economy
The government has secured commitment from mobile networks EE, O2, Three and Vodafone to tackle poor signal issues. The networks have agreed to a £5bn investment to improve mobile infrastructure with guaranteed voice and text coverage from each operator across 90% of the UK by 2017, according to the government.
Environment secretary Elizabeth Truss said: “Improved infrastructure is a great driver of change and our investment in broadband and transport links, together with improved mobile phone signals, is unlocking the huge potential for growth in the countryside where entrepreneurial activity is outstripping many parts of the UK”.
Defra’s analysis showed workers in rural areas in England are 83% as productive as those in urban areas. But people living in the countryside are more likely to run their own businesses than people in towns. It is already the location of a quarter of all businesses, despite only around 18% of people living in rural areas. And among the fastest growing sectors have been IT and consultancy.
The department’s statement cited a crop of rural businesses, including food firm Ginsters, which has started selling its products online to customers in Hong Kong. Headforwards was also flagged as a software development company creating and delivering custom software for the telecoms industry.
“As one of the fastest growing startups in the south west, Headforwards works with coders from across the globe, all attracted by the Cornish lifestyle,” said the department.