Infrastructure Vital to Rural Economy

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Byline: By RUSELL LLAWSON Western Mail

Operating a small business in a rural environment has always been perceived as a struggle. Yet, the latest State of the Countryside report suggests that businesses in the countryside are dynamic and growing fast.

Studies estimate that rural firms represent nearly a third of all registered businesses in Wales, with 8% more per head of population than urban areas.

In addition, rural business employs over 5.35 million people across the country, in areas beyond the traditional farming and tourism sector.

However, there is no definitive piece of work detailing how a small business survives in the countryside and the role it plays in sustaining the community. A small business can be the hub of a village and an employer a key figure in the local community.

There is much dispute over what constitutes a rural business. It has been suggested there are five main profiles of rural businesses: Urban Hinterland or Accessible Rural which covers rural businesses sited close to urbanised towns; Market Towns, which are firms in towns that depend on the surrounding countryside; Remote Rural, an official category covering about 200,000 businesses (however, we have to question how remote they are, as most of Lincolnshire falls into this category); Remote, Remote Rural which are businesses with the worst problems of isolation and access; and Urban Businesses with Rural Interests, which are those firms that have customers or suppliers in rural areas, live in rural areas, aspire to work in rural areas, or are just interested in rural life.

Whatever the case, many small businesses argue transport is vital to their business operations. Private transport is allowing the highest degree of access the countryside has ever known, from the ability to transport goods to a wider choice of labour market.

Drivers from rural areas make 21% more trips per year than the national average, as public transport is unable to meet the needs or expectations of those living in rural communities.

However, car-based transport brings its own problems, almost two-thirds of rural employers are unhappy with the cost of fuel and the impact this has on their business. The state of roads also remains a greater concern for small rural businesses, than their urban counterparts.

Rural employers are at an automatic competitive disadvantage as transporting and taking delivery of goods generally requires longer distances and higher fuel costs.

A growing trend, particularly in the countryside, is the rise of home-based businesses. …