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Rural businesses in Notts can help drive the national economy in 2017, says CLA Chair

Rural businesses in Nottinghamshire can continue to play a full part in driving forward the nation’s economy in 2017 if they are given the right economic and political environment in which to thrive.

That’s the view of the county’s CLA Branch Committee Chair Andrea O’Donnell, who says rural businesses have the appetite to make further investments but need support from both local authorities and Whitehall.

“An estimated £2.9billion was invested by rural businesses in the CLA’s east region during 2015, a significant sum that has done much to boost our national economy. The contribution of Nottinghamshire’s rural businesses to this figure cannot be underestimated,” she said.

“There is the potential for further investment across a wide range of areas, such as the diversification of rural businesses into residential and commercial property, tourism, renewable energy, and so on. However, many are left frustrated by the planning system, which is often unnecessarily costly, time consuming and bureaucratic. The refusal rate for converting old farm buildings to residential units is almost three times higher than approvals to convert offices to homes, which indicates policy is not working.

“Government instability and ever-shifting policy is also a problem for farmers and landowners who look long-term for a return on their investments. Right now, they want some certainty on where they stand regarding Brexit and the opportunities that it will present them.

“Farmers will also be looking for news on changes to regulation that can be made on our exit from the EU that could have an immediate and positive impact – such as a replacement for CAP and a new process for licensing crop protection products.

“We also need certainty on reform of water abstraction regulation because there are major concerns regarding what it means for farmers and landowners. Radical reform of such a complex system needs careful planning, but the time taken to advance plans has caused uncertainty. This ultimately leads to a lack of confidence in making long-term capital investments.

“Economic policy, especially taxation, is also a major consideration when it comes to businesses progressing with investment plans. The 2017 Business Rates revaluation has increased the rate liability for many rural businesses, leaving many very concerned about the future viability of their enterprises.”

Mrs O’Donnell said farmers and landowners could give themselves stability and an increased chance of profitability by creating long-term business and succession plans.

“Informality and a lack of business planning contribute in no small part to holding businesses back from fulfilling their potential,” she said. “Four in five rural businesses are planning to make investments, but only 13% have a formal business plan in place. While over a quarter of those not planning to invest are not doing so because there is no one to take over the business.

“We need to continue to promote the benefits of farmers and landowners sitting down and mapping out the future with their families and business partners, and ensuring they all have a clear idea of the direction of travel their businesses are taking – and knowing who will be at the helm.”

While rural broadband had improved in the countryside, Mrs O’Donnell said the potential of digital connectivity had only been partially fulfilled and more needed to be done to help rural businesses grasp the opportunity to trade goods and services across the globe.

“Despite a major programme of public investment, all too often rural business owners have had to make their own investments in order to get connected,” she said. “A digital divide still remains between rural and urban areas, and there is a need for real focus from the Government to ensure universal service is achieved.

“However, we also need to promote new approaches to funding connections in remote rural areas, and give local business owners who have invested in putting in place their own superfast connection to become local suppliers.

“A consequence of this lack of connectivity is the proposed quarterly digital tax reporting being brought in to ‘make the tax system fit for the digital age’. This will be very onerous, and in some cases impossible, for those in rural areas with poor or non-existent broadband connections.”

Mrs O’Donnell said crime remained a major issue for Nottinghamshire’s rural businesses and communities, and there was a need for everyone in the countryside to play their part in assisting the Police.

“There is still an on-going problem with fly-tipping, fuel and machinery theft – not to mention poaching and hare-coursing – and we urge anyone who sees anything out of the ordinary to report it to 101,” she said. “This way the Police can get add it to their database and build up profiles making it easier to track the culprits.”

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