Rural policies: priorities after Brexit
Beyond the farm
15 September 2017
What should rural policy look like after Brexit? Fiona Mannix reports from an event that considered the priorities
As the UK prepares to withdraw from the EU, it is vital to rethink rural policy approaches. Much of the discussion on rural policy tends to focus on farming and agriculture, but there is also a need to incorporate thinking beyond farming.
An event in April, organised by Newcastle University’s Centre for Rural Economy (CRE), Action with Communities in Rural England and RICS, aimed to advise policymakers and influencers how to set positive, inclusive rural policy, utilising long-standing experience, rigorous research and a robust evidence base, and to highlight the need for wider thinking about the rural economy.
The event, held at RICS’ headquarters in London, opened with a speech from Fiona Mannix that outlined the role chartered surveyors play in the rural economy. For instance, ensuring that values can be attributed to a diverse asset base for a variety of purposes, and are derived from professionals who can be held to account, enables functioning markets and, in turn, a dynamic, vibrant rural economy. Professional and sustainable management of both the built and natural environment means that current and future generations can continue to live in, and contribute to, the rural economy.
In England, for example, there were 537,000 businesses registered in rural areas in 2015/16, representing 24% of the nation’s total. The most recent statistics – broken down by areas identified as rural on the basis of population density and employment by sector – indicate that English rural areas contributed an estimated £229bn to the nation’s total economy in terms of gross value added (GVA), around a fifth of England’s total economic activity.
Recently, the UK government has focused strongly on productivity, and various theories have been advanced to explain the current productivity gap. The study Understanding the Drivers of Productivity through Regression Analysis sought to identify the factors that best explain productivity, expressed as GVA per workforce job. It shows that productivity is traditionally thought to be driven by capital – including finance, skills, infrastructure and technology – as well as labour and innovation.
The results of this study, however, show that finance and innovation are the major factors in determining productivity. There was no evidence that simply being under a rural rather than urban local authority leads to differences in productivity, and this bodes well for rural businesses, which are also more robust in economic downturns than their urban counterparts.
In its report After Brexit: 10 key questions for rural policy, CRE asks a range of questions, including how national and local government can plan support for rural communities to reach their full economic potential.
A panel discussion at April’s event touched on this and other questions raised in the report, and provided an opportunity to explore how rural policy should be developed outside EU frameworks, and how the UK’s rural communities can be supported after Brexit.
Rethinking rural policy needs to go beyond farming
There was some divergence of opinion on the panel, with experts promoting the need for ruralproofing of all government policy and those engaged in rural businesses thinking that this approach alone cannot yield the results required. Instead, they believe collaboration should be encouraged and the UK must foster and support innovation and entrepreneurship.
What was clear was that there is an even greater requirement for all interested parties to join forces to promote the contribution that all rural businesses, not just farming, make to the economy, in addition to their role in harnessing social capital and sustaining rural communities. All rural businesses need to be supported to ensure this.
The requirement for rural policy to enable business development and expansion was also highlighted, as was the belief that policy should not be top-down but instead bottom-up, and the principle of subsidiarity should be observed.
Fiona Mannix is Associate Director, RICS Land Group
- Brochures on rural priorities for Brexit in each of the 4 UK nations are available from the RICS website
- This feature is taken from the RICS Land journal (August/September 2017)