Rural businesses in the UK are struggling to compete with their urban counterparts due to a lack of public infrastructure and skilled labour, according to a recent survey by the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) and small business platform Xero. 

The survey revealed that over half of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in business, retail, or industrial parks were not satisfied with public transport provision, rising to 79% in rural areas, compared to 42% in towns, villages, and high streets.

Rural Business Struggles

The survey found that there was a significant divide in broadband connectivity, with only 56% of rural SMEs reporting reliable broadband, compared to 82% in urban areas. The shortage of reliable broadband and poor transport infrastructure is having a significant impact on rural businesses, making it difficult for them to compete with urban businesses that have better access to these resources.

Furthermore, a number of SMEs have also reported difficulties in recruiting suitably skilled workers. This issue is compounded by the fact that many young people in rural areas move to urban areas for work, resulting in a shortage of skilled labour in rural areas.

According to Alex Veitch, Director of Policy and Public Affairs at the BCC, the rural-urban divide continues to exist between firms in the UK. Rural businesses generally report higher levels of dissatisfaction with the quality and availability of local resources, which puts them at a significant disadvantage. 

High-quality public infrastructure and access to a skilled labour force are both crucial to the success of a business, particularly SMEs. Therefore, the development of public infrastructure must be urgently prioritised by the government.

Why Could This be a Problem?

Rural businesses are essential for sustaining local economies and providing jobs and essential goods and services to rural communities. They contribute significantly to the economy, generating income and supporting the tax base. They also offer employment opportunities that can help to keep people in their communities and close to their families instead of forcing young professionals to move into big cities like London and Birmingham.

In addition to their economic importance, rural businesses play a key role in supporting rural development. They can help to promote sustainable development, conserve natural resources, and contribute to the development of local infrastructure. Rural businesses can also help to preserve local culture and heritage by promoting traditional skills, crafts, and products.

What Do Rural Businesses Want?

Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs, Jim McMahon, believes that the past 13 years of Tory rule have weakened the foundations of rural communities. This has resulted in unaffordable housing, funding cuts for transport, overworked GPs and dentists, and the closure of community hubs such as village shops, post offices, and pubs. McMahon believes that the government must do more to support rural communities and businesses to help them raise money, enable them to thrive and compete with their urban counterparts.

Many businesses are calling for the government to prioritise the development of public infrastructure in rural areas to enable local and small businesses to function. This investment would, in theory, help bridge the rural-urban divide and ensure that rural communities can compete with their urban counterparts.