A group of rural business leaders and farmers has called on the government to unlock the investment potential of the countryside in its 25-year Plan for Food and Farming or risk damaging the prospects of those who rely on the rural economy.
Defra Secretary of State Andrea Leadsom was told to include the countryside in future political thinking when considering future policy proposals for the Plan at the CLA’s Rural Business Conference in Westminster.
The industry-led 25-year Plan will lay out how the government intends to improve the UK’s food and farming sector and is expected to outline how farmers can grow and sell more British food.
In the past this has included building the ‘British brand’ to increase overseas exports, in a bid to strengthen the rural economy and encourage innovation and the creation of new jobs.
The CLA, which represents 32,000 landowners, farmers and rural businesses in England and Wales, is urging the government to:
- set out a new tax roadmap for family businesses
- to finish the job of reforming the planning system
- undertake regulatory changes that allow more rural businesses to enter into new markets such as supplying broadband and energy to local customers.
CLA President, Ross Murray, said: “Never has it been more important to address this imbalance than today as the rural economy prepares for the potentially seismic changes of Brexit. The new Industrial Strategy and the 25 year plan for food and farming are the opportunity to address this imbalance and they must be taken.”
More than 400 rural business owners attended the Conference, during which the CLA revealed its latest research on businesses in rural England and Wales. It showed that 96 per cent of businesses are family run and that they are currently responsible for investing more than £13 billion a year into the rural economy.
It also found that more than 80 per cent of landowning rural businesses plan to make investments within the next few years.
Entitled Rural Business 2030, the report follows on from a year-long evidence gathering programme, which included new large-scale research of investment intentions and a series of fact-finding seminars.
“Businesses based on rural land are vibrant, full of entrepreneurial energy and are looking to the future,” added Ross Murray. “Our new report shows there are great opportunities for these small family businesses to boost the rural economy in the years ahead, particularly through new business ventures, such as becoming suppliers of better high speed broadband and renewable electricity or heating systems.
“They are up for the challenge, but they face an uphill struggle if government doesn’t start doing more to champion this type of rural investment.”