Leadsom vows rural businesses will thrive in post-Brexit world

Environment Secretary Andrea Leadsom claimed the Government is laying the right foundations to meet the growth ambitions of rural businesses.

Andrea Leadsom, the Environment Secretary addressed rural business owners at a conference held by the Country Land and Business Association in Westminster. Picture: James Hardisty.

The Minister told a Westminster meeting of more than 400 landowners that the economic prize for just a small increase in rural productivity was potentially an injection into the economy worth billions of pounds.

Landowners had derided a rural-urban investment divide in the Government’s growth agenda on the eve of the Country Land and Business Association’s (CLA) Rural Business Conference and accused the Chancellor of ignoring rural business in his Autumn Statement.

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According to the CLA, rural businesses need better Whitehall policies to give them confidence to continue investing on the back of an impressive performance in 2015 when rural businesses in the North of England pumped £1bn into the economy - more than double the figure for 2012.

Speaking at the organisation’s inaugural rural business summit, Mrs Leadsom said “a whole suite” of measures announced by Philip Hammond will help rural areas, including a £23bn innovation and infrastructure fund to bring new homes, roads and train links; exclusion for small businesses from paying business rates; and a commitment to better protect more than one million acres of farmland from the risk of flooding by 2021.

The Minister added: “The government is providing the right foundations to support the ambitions of your businesses.”

The CLA urged the Environment Secretary to seize Brexit as a chance to deliver for rural areas, an opportunity which Mrs Leadsom said was “huge” for introducing British products to new markets across the globe.

She said: “I want to make sure that all businesses, big or small, but especially those in rural areas, are able to play their part in the opportunities that lie ahead.

“Now is the time to think about how you can find new trading relationships, draw up a formal investment plan, or improve the local environment.”

The CLA’s new Rural Business 2030 report reveals how the Government’s current planning system is one of the biggest barriers to rural business investment.

Mrs Leadsom said: “We need a planning system that matches the ambition of rural businesses, and I can assure you this is something I take really seriously. The rural productivity plan committed the government to review planning constraints - And we will be announcing some very positive next steps in the housing white paper which will include details relevant to rural businesses.”

Broadband connectively remains another critical issue and Mrs Leadsom said the Government was going further than any other country in Europe by committing to a new Universal Service Obligation which will give households the legal right to request affordable, fast broadband at 10 megabits per second.

The Minister added: “There is no doubt that without a strong and successful rural economy, there can be no such thing as a thriving British economy. I will do all I can to make sure that success continues and grows.”

CLA president Ross Murray said if ministers fail to include the countryside in future political thinking then the uncertainties of Brexit, allied to volatile agricultural prices, could severely harm the prospects of investments into the rural economy.