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Delegates flock to Newcastle University rural economy debate at Conservative Party Conference


There was standing room only as party activists and countryside policy experts took part in Newcastle University’s fringe event at the Conservative Party Conference.

Drawing on the work of the Queen's Award winning Centre for Rural Economy (CRE), the event marked the launch of a new report, ‘ NU%20CRE%20Rural%20Policy%20(web)’ which calls for improvements in a number of specific areas to push growth policy beyond a focus on farming, forestry and food sectors.

The debate was led by an expert panel of Newcastle academics, policy campaigners and senior politicians.

Professor Mark Shucksmith, Director of the Newcastle University Institute for Social Renewal, opened the debate with a call for rural-proofed policy, remarking that many policies and funding formulas for services like education and health do not account for the particular circumstances of the countryside.

Janice Banks, Chief Executive of Action with Communities in Rural England (ACRE), echoed this sentiment, remarking that the success and potential of the rural economy is often overlooked. She highlighted the many ‘micro-businesses’ found in those areas as the “hidden heroes” of the UK economy.

Rory Stewart, Conservative MP for Penrith and The Border, continued on the theme, noting that most large scale regional development funding has traditionally been directed at big businesses. He also celebrated the ingenuity of countryside communities in developing their own solutions to challenges like the need for affordable housing. However, he warned their efforts are often hampered by overbearing bureaucracy.

Professor Richard Davies, Pro-Vice-Chancellor, Engagement and Internationalisation, at Newcastle University, chaired the event. Following the event he said: “As a world class civic university we are committed to having an impact on the economic, social and cultural development of the North East of England and the whole of the UK.

“The work of our award-winning Centre for Rural Economy is a shining example of these principles being put into action, and we’re delighted that so many conference delegates could join us to debate the issues it raises.

"Rural communities play an important role in the UK but face many unique challenges. Tackling them requires academic insight, political will and community action. We’re proud to have played a part in this with our event this week.”

Newcastle University has also held an event at the Labour Party conference in Manchester and will next week be at the Liberal Democrat Party Conference in Glasgow. For more information, please visit:


published on: 2 October 2014