Devolution key to rural productivity improvements, say ministers

20 Aug 15

The government has published a plan to boost the economic productivity of rural parts of England, with devolution of powers to local authorities and improvements to connectivity among the priorities.

The ten-point programme, published by Chancellor George Osborne today, also sets out amendments to planning rules to allow Starter Homes to be built in rural areas where commercial housing developments would not be permitted.

Today’s document also reiterates government plans for schools deemed to be 'coasting’ to be converted into academies, and calls for expressions of interest from rural areas to lead the delivery of 30 hours of free childcare.

Setting out the proposals, Osborne highlighted that thousands of people are moving to rural areas, according to government figures.

“For too long the British economy has been reliant on businesses based in our cities and towns. We want to create a One Nation economy that taps into the potential of all parts of our country.

“That means setting the right conditions for rural communities and businesses to thrive, investing in education and skills, improving rural infrastructure, and allowing rural villages to thrive and grow.”

The document calls on local councils to come forward with proposals for devolution of significant powers in return for the creation of directly-elected mayors.

“The government is committed to empowering local leaders to drive growth through policies anchored in the specific needs of local areas,” the document states.

Proposals that seek more limited devolution of powers to boost economic growth without a mayor will also be considered if they can ensure “strong and accountable local governance”, according to the text.

Environment secretary Elizabeth Truss said the intention is to make it as easy to run a business from Cornwall as from Camden, through transport investment in the government’s road and rail strategies.

“Our rural areas could be generating billions more for the UK and providing many thousands of new jobs. This plan will make that a reality, unleashing the full potential of our countryside to create a true One Nation economy,” she added.

“Our plan will help us create thriving towns and villages where generations of families can open and expand their businesses, buy a home and educate their children at first class schools.”

Responding to the plan, Ben Harrison, the director of partnerships for Centre for Cities, said it was important that plans to increase productivity for rural areas were not viewed in isolation from, or in opposition to, the needs of urban areas.

“On average, one in five rural residents commute to UK cities for work, highlighting the economic interdependence that exists between urban and rural areas,” he added.

“Any strategy to boost rural economies should therefore also consider how to strengthen the links that exist between urban areas and their rural hinterlands, particularly in parts of the country where demand for housing is high.

“Building homes and improving transport links in rural areas close to cities where house prices are increasingly unaffordable, such as Cambridge, Oxford or London, would help those places to continue to grow, providing more job opportunities for residents across the whole area, and boosting the national economy too.”

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