Rural firms call for better digital access

Walkers at Ribblehead Viaduct in Yorkshire - PA
Walkers at Ribblehead Viaduct in Yorkshire - PA
Have your say

Rural businesses in Yorkshire are displaying increasing levels of digitisation despite being constrained by poor levels of connectivity, new research has shown.

New research by Rural England and Scotland’s Rural College finds nearly four in five rural businesses say digital technologies like cloud computing, 5G, Internet of Things and artificial intelligence are important to their growth.

In Yorkshire more than half of all rural businesses use cloud computing while two thirds have their own website for selling and advertising purposes.

The research shows that contribution of rural business in the north accounts for 11.8 per cent of all business income for the region, a figure bosses say would be far higher were they privy to the same levels of connectivity as their urban counterparts.

Aside from internet speed and reliability, the factors which most often hold back digital take-up by businesses were said to be difficulties in finding digital support, accessing external digital training and recruiting staff with appropriate digital skills.

Brian Wilson, chair of directors at independent think tank Rural England, said: “What is striking in this research is the ambition and willingness of rural businesses in the North of England to embrace new technology that could increase the global competitiveness of our rural economy.

“Whilst connectivity in the North of England remains a concern, it is clear that more needs to be done beyond this in terms of more proactive support and skills development.

“We need a clear roadmap for fulfilling the potential of businesses in the North of England - something we hope the final report will identify when published.”

E-commerce plays a big role in helping rural businesses to export, with 80 per cent using digital tools and services to trade goods and services around the world

However, over half of rural businesses say recruiting people with appropriate tech skills and accessing training for their workforce is a barrier to digital adoption

Rural businesses are embracing the digital economy but face barriers to digital adoption due to a lack of skills and access to training in rural areas, according to new findings from Rural England and Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC) commissioned by Amazon.

“The research finds that rural businesses are typically family-run, home-based, owned by people aged over 55 years old and employing fewer than ten people – exactly the type of businesses that can gain from using digital technology to expand their productivity,” said Doug Gurr, UK Country Manager, Amazon.

“Every day, we see digital technology levelling the playing field between businesses operating in urban and rural parts of the country, whether that’s exporting locally produced goods or using cloud computing to scale their business.”

However beyond issues with internet reliability and speed, more than half of rural business owners say they face a variety of skills-related obstacles, such as recruiting people with appropriate skills to finding training for their existing workforce.

Almost a third have difficulty finding digital connectivity support.