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A ‘rural-inclusive’ case for Levelling Up

25 November 2021

The National Innovation Centre for Rural Enterprise (NICRE) has set out its argument about why and how the Government should develop ‘rural-inclusive’ Levelling Up policies, delivery programmes and resources.

The Briefing Paper 'A strategic case for equitable recognition of rural economies in Levelling Up policies' has evidence of the breadth and spatial reach of rural areas’ economic contributions and acknowledges challenges faced by rural firms.

It also suggests adjustments to policy design and delivery to make them accessible and relevant to rural areas, and to support spatial and functional inter-dependencies.

Its publication follows NICRE trailing evidence from the report at the rural economy session of the RSN’s National Rural Conference 2021.

A view of of the Yorkshire countryside with sheep in foreground and some houses in the background

Recognising rural economies

The paper, which was produced with contributions and support from other researchers and rural institutions including Professor Matthew Gorton at Newcastle University Business School, builds on NICRE’s What is the contribution of rural enterprise to Levelling Up and how can this be further enabled? which was published earlier this year. It is intended to inform the Government of the need to recognise or harness rural economies’ extensive and diverse contributions, tackle rural challenges and release rural potential.

Rural economies need to be more central to the Levelling Up agenda. The design of new policies and programmes should equitably embrace rural challenges, contributions and potentials.

Professor Jeremy Phillipson, Director of NICRE

Prof Jeremy Phillipson said: "Healthier rural economies can provide wider contributions to prosperity in many regions, urban centres, economies and communities. To turn this potential into reality, the Government needs to invest in and support rural areas, sectors and enterprises, not focus only on competitive cities or towns.

"We hope this Briefing Paper can help the UK Government in developing and demonstrating rurally equitable Levelling Up policies, programmes and funds.

"Building capacity within rural businesses and communities will be vital to improving their awareness and ability to develop, apply for and manage the public investments that will come with the Levelling Up agenda. Here we see a case for new funds to support rural-urban and cross-boundary inter-dependencies and reviving rural Local Action Groups such as those that operated under the Rural Development Programme for England."

The latest report puts forward a model for ‘rural-inclusive’ Levelling Up, arising from improved ‘trickle down’ flows from national or urban investments, releasing more ‘trickle up’ rural flows to cities and wider economies and communities, helped by greater capacity for rural places and businesses to ‘reach in’ to national and local policies, funds and structures.

The paper encourages those designing or delivering this ambition to:

  • Modify targeting and design of new policies and investment programmes
  • Eliminate signals of urban preference towards cities and agglomerated industries
  • Support interdependencies between places and economies with a dedicated investment fund
  • Adopt inclusive metrics or indicators of economic benefits and/or operational outcomes
  • Build capacity and conduits for rural enterprises and peripheral communities to raise their awareness and ability to secure and manage public investments.