Rural businesses across Yorkshire could deliver an extra £1.3bn every year to the local economy if their digital potential is truly unlocked, according to a new report published today.
The county’s 36,000 rural businesses contribute £13.6bn in Gross Value Added (GVA) to the region’s economy - 12.4 percent of the total GVA for Yorkshire - but these figures could be much higher, the study commissioned by Amazon found.
Countryside campaigners said the lack of connectivity to superfast broadband is still holding rural businesses back, but many of those that are connected are not taking full advantage of the digital revolution, Amazon’s UK country manager, Doug Gurr said.
“Rural businesses in Yorkshire and across the North of England are actively embracing digital technology, but there’s still work to be done. In the region, the adoption of cloud computing and remote working is the lowest of any area in the UK, but take-up of superfast broadband is higher than in any other part of the country,” Mr Gurr said.
“Unlocking the digital potential of rural areas across the UK could add between £12bn and £26.4bn to the UK economy, and at least £15bn to rural business turnover. This shows how realising the digital potential could help to level the playing field between urban and rural areas.”
Farmers are still struggling to access the superfast broadband that would allow them to benefit from further digital measures that would boost their economic productivity, according to the National Farmers’ Union (NFU).
A recent survey of union members found that just nine percent of farmers have access to superfast broadband and 50 percent still struggle with download speeds of 2Mbps or less.
Adam Bedford, regional director of the NFU in Yorkshire and the North East, said: “The extent to which a lack of access to good broadband speeds and mobile phone coverage is holding back Yorkshire’s farming business community is something the NFU has been raising with government for many years. It is something our members feel very strongly about because like all modern businesses, connectivity is increasingly at the heart of getting the job done.
“This report highlights the potential contribution Yorkshire’s rural businesses could make if they had access to a digital infrastructure that was fit for purpose and certainly from a farming perspective, this will be essential if the industry is to rise to the huge challenges ahead.”
Dorothy Fairburn, director for the North at the Country Land and Business Association (CLA) said the CLA had also been pushing hard for improved broadband access.
“That is the key,” she said. “There is still a major job to do to show many rural businesses the massive opportunities that can come from making full use of digital connectivity. The CLA is planning a national seminar on this subject in the summer.”
Mr Gurr said establishing digital enterprise hubs in rural areas for better connectivity, and partnerships to provide digital skills training for employees could be among the “quick wins” to unlock Yorkshire’s digital potential.