£12 to 26.4bn digital potential of rural areas

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Unlocking the digital potential of rural areas across the UK could add £12 to 26.4bn annually in Gross Value Added (GVA) – equivalent to 4% to 8.% – to the rural economy and at least £15bn to rural business turnover each year, according to a new report commissioned by Amazon and published today by Rural England and Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC).

The report found that the South West, Eastern and South East regions, which have the largest share of rural businesses in the country, are set to benefit the most from greater digital adoption.

UK Region Share of rural businesses Share of additional GVA (lowest estimate) Share of additional GVA (highest estimate)
1 South West 18.4 per cent £2.2 billion £4.9 billion
2 Eastern 14.3 per cent £1.7 billion £3.8 billion
3 South East 13.6 per cent £1.6 billion £3.6 billion
4 East Midlands 11.4 per cent £1.4 billion £3.0 billion
5 Scotland 9.6 per cent £1.2 billion £2.5 billion
6 West Midlands 7.5 per cent £900 million £2.0 billion
7 Wales 7.1 per cent £900 million £1.9 billion
8 Northern Ireland 5.7 per cent £700 million £1.5 billion
9 Yorkshire & Humberside 4.8 per cent £600 million £1.3 billion
10 North East 3.9 per cent £500 million £1.0 billion
11 North West 3.7 per cent £400 million £1.0 billion
UK Total 100 per cent £12.0 billion £26.4 billion

If digital constraints are removed and the digital potential is realised in rural areas, an estimated £15bn or more could also be generated in additional business turnover. Microbusinesses (0-9 employees) in rural areas would see the greatest benefit, generating an additional £9.4bn in annual business turnover; followed by £4.6bn for small businesses (10-49 employees), £700m for medium-sized businesses (50-249 employees) and £200m for large businesses (over 250 employees).

To unlock the billions of pounds additional GVA from greater digital adoption in rural areas, Rural England and SRUC outline a number of recommendations for the public and private sectors, including:

  • Streamlining digital support services

    Setting up a single portal for information and local directories giving guidance and support that fulfils the digital needs of rural businesses

  • Digital Enterprise Hubs

    Establishing hubs in rural towns which businesses can use or visit for better connectivity, start-up workspace, hot-desk space and training

  • Training and skills development

    Local collaboration between employers and education providers, improving retraining opportunities and ensuring short training courses and online tools are more readily available to small business owners for life-long learning

  • Accelerated business adoption of digital connectivity

    Encourage businesses using superfast broadband to champion its benefits to their peers locally, offering practical real-life examples of success, and prioritise investment in connectivity and digital tools.

  • Stronger rural targeting by existing policies and strategies

    Making support for digital growth a key objective in future rural business support programmes and encourage larger technology-driven firms to implement policies focused on greater digital adoption in rural areas that shares best practice and provides practical hands-on support for smaller companies

“This report is very welcome. The internet has the potential to ensure the countryside can flourish in a way that combines preserving the environment with economic dynamism. Digital technology can open opportunities, build skills and connect rural businesses to global markets.”
– Rt Hon Michael Gove MP, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs


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