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Rural & Food Economy

Diverse, Green and Growing

Rural map

Key West of England facts

  • 53,000 rural jobs
  • 10,000 self employed
  • 7,000 work from home
  • 7,500 VAT registered
  • 11% of those employed in the West of England
  • 70% of the land area

Sector overview

The rural areas of the West of England are more than just pretty backdrops to the economic powerhouses of Bristol, Bath, Weston-super-Mare and Avonmouth.   

In fact, they are home to a huge diversity of businesses. The farming industry is at the heart of it - producing food and drink not just for the local area but for the country as a whole and for the export market too. Famous brands such as Yeo Valley, Thatchers and Lye Cross are based here in the West of England along with specialist food producers like Marshfield Bakery. Local businesses with global aspirations.

But it's true, the countryside of the West of England certainly is beautiful and it provides all sorts of opportunities for recreation and leisure - whether on foot, horseback or bike. From prestigious country houses to homely bed and breakfasts, rural West of England is a welcoming destination for day trippers and holiday makers from home and abroad alike.

The countryside works for us in so many ways providing water, timber, renewable energy and minerals - Tarmac and Hanson being just two of the big aggregates companies to have major operations in rural West of England.

It's not only a great place to visit but it's also a great place to work and there are some pretty special office facilities available for  businesses whose employees prefer the green and leafy rural life rather than the town and city.

What all these businesses have in common is the ability to grow and to add value to the economy of the West of England.

Working together to grow the rural economy

The LEP Rural Economy Sector Group (RESG) was formed in September 2011.

It has attracted support from the main rural economy membership organisations, including the CLA, NFU, FSB, West of England Rural Network and Business West. Private sector companies involved so far include Thrings LLP, Smith & Williamson, Alvis Brothers/Lye Cross Farm Cheese, Yeo Valley and Marshfield Bakery.

Unitary Authority partners from South Gloucestershire, Bath and North East Somerset and North Somerset have also been supportive, active and engaged contributors. Since formation, the RESG has held 17 group meetings and a full programme is planned for 2014.

In January 2012, a bid was submitted to Defra to create a Rural Growth Network but the West of England was not chosen as one of the six pilot areas. It is hoped to take this concept forward in due course.

Top of the RESG's work list for 2013 was contributing to the LEP's emerging European Investment Fund Strategy and ensuring that the voice of rural SMEs was heard in discussions about the LEP's emerging Strategic Economic Plan. The push to get superfast broadband out to the rural areas—a vital tool for businesses keen to compete on the international stage has remained firmly on our agenda throughout 2013 and is set to remain a key subject of concern during 2014.

RESG identifies barriers to rural economic growth

Over-regulation and a weak communications infrastructure have been identified by RESG members as two key constraints on rural economic growth. The planning system has served us well over the years reconciling our heritage with the needs of change, but over time has become over-bureaucratic and slow.

RESG member, Charles Hignett, hopes that the new National Planning Policy Framework and slimmed down procedures will help the rural economy move forward and increase its economic output. Rural businesses also need top class communications if they are to prosper. "High speed broadband and top quality mobile communications are vital for any business, and rural areas have struggled for too long to achieve parity with their counterparts in town" he says. "2013-14 is already seeing progress in this area, but that needs to be maintained. And the road network also deserves attention."

But great premises with great connections won't be enough for success.  It all depends on having skilled employees. The RESG recognises the importance of the LEP's cross cutting skills work and will be contributing its knowledge and experience to make sure that the skills programmes are relevant and accessible to the rural workforce.

There's no doubt that proximity to Bristol and the impact that has on living costs and the availability of affordable staff is a dilemma for the rural business community.  Some of the solution may be found in planning policies that encourage the building of homes for local people alongside the open market—but it will also need rural businesses to raise productivity and efficiency if they are going to compete for staff as well as for markets.

Sector group information
For further information or to be involved, please contact Melissa Houston

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