SWLEP’s Rural Productivity Commission calls for evidence from rural businesses and stakeholders

The South West Rural Productivity Commission has been established as a partnership by four LEPs in the South West of England: The Heart of the South West (HotSW LEP), Dorset LEP, Swindon & Wiltshire (SWLEP), Cornwall & the Isles of Scilly (CIoS LEP) to explore the issues around rural productivity and growth.

These south west LEPs recognise the importance of rural growth, productivity and prosperity being tackled alongside urban growth, to ensure that improvements impact on all parts of the economy, and are jointly calling for written evidence with the deadline of 19th May, and for expressions of interest to take part one of a series of evidence hearings in June.

The commission is set up to hear and review evidence from a range of sources and stakeholders, and aims to:

  • Frame the south west response to the Industrial Strategy and forthcoming DEFRA 25 year plans for ‘food, farming and fisheries’ and ‘environment’
  • Draw out the opportunities for the south west and individual LEPs to drive rural productivity improvements
  • Understand the wider economic functioning between rural and urban to identify opportunities to drive growth across the whole area
  • Secure Government support for specific initiatives in the 2017 autumn statement
  • Influence national and local policies where appropriate to improve rural productivity

The commission will report to the chairs of the four LEPs that have committed to the process, and it will be chaired by David Fursdon, Chair of the SW Rural and Farming Network and supported by nominated representatives from each LEP area (to be announced shortly).

The commission will collect and review evidence through the following process:

  • An open call for written evidence in April and May, with a deadline of 19th May
  • Formal evidence hearings in June across the four LEP areas (indicative dates 5, 9, 20 and 28 June)
  • Wider engagement and debate through social media throughout
  • Final report produced by the end of July

The process will start with a call for written evidence relating to research questions (see below). Please submit your written evidence to the secretariat of the commission, Emma Buckman, at: emma.buckman@heartofswlep.co.uk by the 19th May.

The panel will also hear evidence in public through a series of panel sessions across the region in June – venues to be confirmed – please watch this space. If you would like to present evidence in person to the panel, please complete this short on-line expression of interest form. https://www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/EOI-SWRural. As panel time will be limited, we cannot guarantee all interested parties will be able to present. The panel hearings will be open to the public.

The commission is seeking evidence in relation to the following research questions:

  1. What does the economy look like in rural areas? (sectors, jobs, innovation, productivity, demography, housing, skills)
  2. What are the opportunities for growth/productivity improvements in rural areas?
  3. What are the barriers to growth/productivity improvements in rural areas?
  4. How does the rural economy interact with the urban economy and how can this be optimised? To what extent are market and coastal town providing a ‘hub’ for their rural hinterlands?
  5. What skills are needed in rural areas, do skills issues differ from urban areas?
  6. How do we ensure skills needs are met?
  7. What are the implications of Brexit for the rural economy?
  8. Is there evidence of innovative clusters in the rural economy? If so, how can these be identified, nurtured and replicated?
  9. Drawing on our experience of delivering rural support programmes in the SW, what sort of interventions have been successful and what sort of interventions proved less effective?
  10. What is the potential for businesses to ‘scale-up’ in the rural economy? How do Local Enterprise Partnerships and government bodies identify these businesses and support them to grow?
  11. Are there specific challenges for deeply rural areas and how can economies be supported in deeply rural areas?
  12. To what extent have rural areas been able to benefit from wider growth initiatives (e.g. Growth Deals, European funding etc.)
  13. Are there any other issues relating to rural growth/productivity that you would like to raise?

Scope and Definitions
The scope of the study is the rural areas of south west of England, in particular the following LEP areas which share issues in common.

  • Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly
  • Dorset
  • Heart of the SW
  • Swindon and Wiltshire

Whilst we are proactively seeking evidence relevant to these LEP areas, we welcome relevant national, regional and sub-regional evidence that address the study questions.

Rural Definition:
The ‘spirit’ of the enquiry is to explore ‘rural’ in its broadest sense to understand how the economy is functioning outside of the ‘principal urban areas’ of the region. We expect evidence to be qualitative and quantitative in nature and for partners to submit any evidence that they believe is pertinent to the enquiry. Should it be necessary to interrogate national data sources (e.g. ONS), the commission will use the ONS rural urban classification, which defines areas as rural if they are outside settlements with more than 10,000 resident population. More information about the rural-urban classification can be found here. https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/591462/RUCOA_leaflet_Jan2017.pdf
However, we also recognise that rural/urban data is not always available at this small geographical scale and sometimes it is necessary to use the rural/urban local authority classification, which also considers some urban areas as Hub towns (with populations of between 10,000 and 30,000). These Hub towns have met statistical criteria to be considered hubs for services and businesses for a wider rural hinterland and their populations are therefore classified as effectively rural for the purposes of local authority classification.