A Defra report on rural productivity claims rural workers are 83 percent as productive as those in urban areas. However, increased connectivity, spread of innovation and growth in knowledge-based industries, including agriculture, could allow the countryside to gain ground on towns over the next decade.
Defra estimates a rise in rural jobs, thanks to a high-tech boost from speedier broadband and better transport links, could increase economic output in rural areas by £35bn by 2025.
During this time, the government predicts an additional 300,000 rural jobs could be created – a 6 percent increase in rural employment – with more people leaving cities in search of a rural idyll.
According to Defra, people living in the countryside are more likely to run their own businesses than those in towns. The English countryside is already home to a quarter of all businesses – despite only about 18 percent of people living in rural areas.
The government defended its record on rural broadband and insisted that by 2017 public investment of £1.7bn will see 95 percent of UK premises gain access to superfast speeds, with work ongoing to identify suitable options to connect the remaining 5 percent in hard to reach areas.
Defra secretary Liz Truss said the report showed there were “exciting times” ahead for the countryside, which is set to become “even more of an economic powerhouse”.
But shadow Defra farm minister Huw Irranca-Davies said the report was based on plans “yet to be delivered”.
“Having failed the countryside on broadband and infrastructure investment over the past four-and-a-half years the Tories are promising jam tomorrow,” Irranca-Davies added.
“The cost-of-living crisis is the real problem holding back rural Britain. Under this Tory-led government it costs £2,800 more a year to live in the countryside than it does in a city.”
And Dr Charles Trottman, CLA head of rural development, said he had a particular issue with Defra “touting the improved broadband card” which was “far from reality”.