Post-virus rural/ urban divisions need levelling up

A report published today to coincide with the English NFU annual conference claims that rural Britain is uniquely placed to help the country’s recovery from the ravages of Covid-19 – but needs some of the rural/urban divide to be addressed to deliver this.

Stating that the pandemic has highlighted the key role of food production, the report also emphasizes the way in which a well-looked after countryside can contribute to ensuring good physical and mental health for the nation.

Forming part of what was termed an ‘ambitious and revolutionary’ approach, the report called for a levelling up of rural Britain to help deliver jobs, boost green economic growth, increase exports and improve the wellbeing of the entire nation.

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Focusing on a sustainable food production policy delivering carbon neutral food, the report states that no one should be disadvantaged by where they live or where their business is based – but it highlights several areas where the rural and urban divide continues to grow.

Broadband and connectivity issues in the countryside meant that poor access to reliable mobile coverage and adequate internet access continued to put rural areas at a disadvantage, acting as a constraint on capital investment.

Rural crime was another issue which the NFU said had to be tackled - with farms and rural communities being the targets of criminals in recent years, with rural crime costing the UK £54.3 million in 2019 – a situation which was not helped by the fact that rural areas continued to receive lower levels of police funding, per head of population, than urban areas.

The report also claimed that the planning system too often prevented farm modernisation, diversification and home building for farm workers – but the government’s planning White Paper offered an opportunity to reform and ensure renewal and growth can be sustained in rural areas.

Speaking ahead of her on-line speech to today’s conference, NFU President Minette Batters said:

“Investment in farming and in rural Britain not only brings about obvious benefits to food production but can have massive benefits to the whole country. If the past 12 months has taught us one thing, it’s that we are all in this together - and a country which levels up everyone, everywhere, is a stronger country.

But she stated that levelling up the country was not just a north and south issue:

“Levelling up Britain is also a rural and urban issue. We need to enable collaborative green growth to level up rural Britain, providing the economic solutions to a truly one nation UK.

Stating that the industry faced a time of risk, opportunity, but above all else, a time of change, she added:

“We can choose to look inwards, pretend that nothing will change, or we can look up, open our eyes to the world, and decide to own our farming destiny.”

She said that the industry’s aims to lead the world on sustainable food production could drive profitable, thriving businesses that could do even more for the environment and biodiversity.”