Carnegie UK Trust Warns of ‘Two-Speed’ Rural Economy

September 25, 2012

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Developing rural economies could provide a big boost to the UK economy but the process needs to be carefully managed to avoid a ‘two-speed’ rural society, warns a new report from Carnegie UK Trust.

Future Directions in Rural Development, written by Professor Mark Shucksmith of Newcastle University, a recognised expert on rural issues, highlights the need for better networking and resource allocation by government to allow rural communities to determine their own future.

Martyn Evans, Chief Executive, Carnegie UK Trust said:  “There is a clear risk that if the state passes power and responsibility to local communities without the necessary resources or support, some will rise to the challenge but many will not, thus creating this ‘two-speed’ rural economy.

“Some rural communities have the skills, assets, networks and institutional capacity to compete strongly, meanwhile, rural communities who have not yet developed these capacities and networks, may struggle to catch up, losing services and infrastructure, and become less able to contribute to rebalancing and renewing the economy.

“We have always been optimistic about the future of rural communities and feel recognising and supporting rural areas as potential economic powerhouses in their own right, not merely as recipients of urban growth, is the right approach to take.

However, Professor Shucksmith presents compelling evidence that it won’t happen on its own.  “Rural communities will require support if they are to reach their potential. One of the most significant changes since 2007 is the role of technology and, in particular, the essential nature of broadband to facilitate business and community in the 21st century.”

The report reaches two conclusions.

  • Firstly, rural areas benefit most from locally-tailored solutions which reflect conditions, capacity and capabilities within and around them. But local action is most effective when it follows a networked model, bringing together the local with national and international resources and support systems.
  • Secondly, local action on its own is insufficient to overcome wider forces affecting rural change.  Intervention is required to address persistent patterns of structural differentiation – such as the north-south divide in England or east-west contrasts in Ireland.

Professor Mark Shucksmith said: “Rural communities have unequal capacities to adapt and thrive in times of rapid, transformational change, and it is very clear that unless there is capacity-building at community level, inequalities will grow between rural areas. While support can come from foundations, universities and others, government’s enabling and fostering role is crucial since only they can provide capacity-building on the scale required and in a systematic way. Government investment in the capacity of local communities should be a priority, even in constrained financial times.

“Governments are often spatially blind to the territorial impacts of their policies and decisions.  In a step forward, the UK Government has announced that it will issue revised guidance on rural proofing in autumn 2012.  Tentative plans for an English Rural Parliament and more concrete government-supported proposals in Scotland for a Rural Parliament, may provide new answers to the question of how to rural-proof government policy.

“Rural economies have much to offer in rebuilding and rebalancing UK economies hard hit by the downturn, but this potential will only be realised and spatial inequalities reduced if governments and others support local action. Governments at all levels should make this a priority area for rural development in the next five years.”

The full report will be available to download from here shortly.

Professor Mark Shucksmith OBE is Director of the Newcastle Institute for Social Renewal at Newcastle University, where he is also Professor of Planning. In 2007-08 he chaired the Scottish Government’s Inquiry into the Future of Crofting. He has been appointed by Ministers in England as a Commissioner with the Commission for Rural Communities since 2005, and he was a member of the Government’s Affordable Rural Housing Commission in 2005-06. He advised the Joseph Rowntree Foundation on rural issues and directed JRF’s Action in Rural Areas programme. He serves on the Executive Committees of both the European and the International Rural Sociological Societies, and works as an expert for OECD.

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