Chancellor must do more to tackle rural disadvantage, campaigners urge

Joint report exposes how rural communities are poorly served by government’s mechanisms for allocating public funds.

  • New economic research reveals government spending per person on public infrastructure is 44% higher for urban areas than it is for rural areas.
  • Rural Services Network, Britain’s Leading Edge, CPRE, the countryside charity and English Rural are calling on the Chancellor to use the upcoming Budget to level up against rural disadvantage.

There is a long way to go until rural communities see their fair share of investment as new economic research reveals government spending per person on public infrastructure is 44% higher for urban areas than it is for rural areas that include no major cities. The report, Towards a greener Green Book process, produced by Pragmatix Advisory and jointly commissioned by Rural Services Network, Britain’s Leading Edge, CPRE, the countryside charity and English Rural exposes how rural communities are poorly served by government’s mechanisms for allocating public funds.

Ahead of the Budget and multi-year Spending Review, rural campaigners are calling on the Chancellor to level up against rural disadvantage with a more strategic approach to the Green Book process that rebalances the way the government meets the needs of countryside communities.

Rural communities are reaching a breaking point – for decades facing inadequate investment in essential public services like transport, affordable housing and measures aimed at economic growth. For every 100,00 people, 36% more affordable homes are built in towns and cities compared to rural areas.

Commenting on the findings, Crispin Truman, chief executive of CPRE, the countryside charity, said:

‘For too long, rural communities have been left out in the cold when it comes to government funding. With more people than ever before looking to our wonderful countryside as a place to live, raise families and visit, it is crucial the government rebalances this without delay. Levelling up against rampant rural disadvantage and unfair funding allocation is a defining challenge of our time.Recent decades demonstrate the impacts of underfunding: little to no reliable rural public transport, poor internet connectivity and a rural housing crisis that is raging through our countryside.

The Chancellor has a golden opportunity in the upcoming Budget to reverse this historic underfunding of our countryside communities. If the government is serious about its levelling up agenda, we must see a significant rise in investment targeted at rural areas to ensure that people can thrive wherever they live: in countryside or city.’

Graham Biggs, MBE Chief Executive of the Rural Services Network said:

‘The RSN has long challenged the government on a number of policy areas that affect rural communities, stressing that rural areas should not be left behind in the government drive to level-up the different parts of the country.This report from Pragmatix Advisory is another demonstration of government process which – no doubt unintentionally – disadvantages rural areas, the communities which live in them and the business which operate from them or serve them.

The November 2020 Spending Review set out the main strategic elements of the UK Shared Prosperity Fund) including that a portion of the UKSPF ‘will target places most in need across the UK, such as rural and coastal communities’. To achieve what the government says processes such as the Green Book clearly need to be rural proofed.’

Martin Collett, Chief Executive of English Rural, said:

‘The clear evidence emerging from this research tells those of us working with rural communities something we know all too well, that public investment and policy making favours urban solutions to rural problems. The views and needs of rural communities are overlooked because of urban bias decision making embedded across Whitehall.Those involved in commissioning this and the earlier research Rural Recovery and Revitalisation, are calling on the government to think again about how to achieve the commitment to levelling-up, specifically by including rural disadvantage within future financial and policy making decisions.’

Julian German, Leader of Cornwall Council (Britain’s Leading Edge member):

‘The evidence from this research supports Britain’s Leading Edge analysis that there is presently a ‘policy corridor’ running across the centre of England, in which the government has concentrated its infrastructure and innovation investment; devolution deals; its relocation of public sector jobs; and core funding for essential local services.We need to re-frame our view of rural areas, not as hinterlands to which benefits are hoped to trickle down, not as an afterthought when it comes to investment and opportunities, but as places to build resilient local economies and communities that contribute to the UK economy.’

Inadequate investment in essential public services like schooling has a crippling effect, where fewer students and greater heating and maintenance costs mean rural schools have higher fixed costs per pupil than in urban areas. The research lays bare the challenges faced by rural communities who are confronted by a triple threat of higher costs, lower funding and greater need and disadvantage.

Urban and more populated areas all-too-often take priority over rural, but more people live in rural communities than in Greater London. Recent changes to the Treasury’s guidance on how specific policies are appraised, the Green Book, have not addressed the problem. To ‘level up’ disadvantaged communities, including those that are rural, the rural campaigners are calling for a more strategic approach across government so a range of bespoke solutions can be considered together to meet the varied needs of, and remove the historic underfunding in, countryside communities. The research recommends that the government must:

  • Make addressing rural disadvantage as important in its Levelling Up and Building Back Better Agenda as tackling deprivation in urban or other areas
  • Publish data on all growth investment at local authority level so that their levelling up agenda can be scrutinized
  • Create a cross-government Taskforce led by a Cabinet Minister to drive delivery of the above recommendations and ensure a meaningful programme of change that levels up rural economies and unleashes their contribution to a carbon zero economy

Further information

For further information, case studies or to interview a spokesperson, please contact:
Jonathan Jones, CPRE Media Relations Lead, 020 7981 2819 / 078 3529 1907

About towards a greener Green Book process

Towards a greener Green Book process was researched and written by a team from Pragmatix Advisory, a strategy and economics research consultancy. The report was based on a literature review, an assessment of the Green Book guidance and its associated documents, including the recent update by the Treasury, and an analysis of official and other statistics. The work was led by Mark Pragnell, who has over 25 years’ experience as a consultant economist including as managing director of CEBR and director of strategy and consultancy at Capital Economics.

Figures for government spending per person on public infrastructure have been calculated by Pragmatix Advisory using data from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government on local authority capital expenditure in England for 2019-2020.

Figures for affordable homes built per 100,000 people have been calculated by Pragmatix Advisory using data from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government on new build dwelling completions for social or affordable tenure in England between 2016-17 and 2018-19.

About CPRE, the countryside charity

CPRE is the countryside charity that campaigns to promote, enhance and protect the countryside for everyone’s benefit, wherever they live.

With a local CPRE in every county, we work with communities, businesses and government to find positive and lasting ways to help the countryside thrive – today and for generations to come.

Founded in 1926, President: Emma Bridgewater, Patron: Her Majesty The Queen.

About Rural Services Network

RSN is the national champion for rural services, ensuring that people in rural areas have a strong voice. We are fighting for a fair deal for rural communities to maintain their social and economic viability for the benefit of the nation as a whole.

About English Rural

English Rural is a Registered Social Landlord, established in 1991 to provide affordable homes in small villages for local people.

Developments built by English Rural are community-led, meet local needs and help to maintain sustainable rural communities.

It currently owns and manages around 1,300 affordable properties, spread amongst 130 UK villages, and has a development programme of over 250 additional homes.

About Britain’s Leading Edge

Britain’s Leading Edge is a collaboration of rural upper-tier local authorities without major cities. We are reframing the story of the contribution that rural regions can make to a sustainable national economy.