Efforts to liberate the potential of England’s rural economies could boost their contribution to the national economy by as much as £347bn/year, a new report suggests.

After last year’s flooding and foot-and-mouth incidents, prime minister Gordon Brown asked Dr Stuart Burgess, the government’s rural advocate and chairman of the Commission for Rural Communities, to look at how rural economies might be strengthened.

Rural areas host about 30% of England’s businesses, earning at least £325bn/year. But they could contribute up to a further £347bn/year, he believes. “There is scope for significant improvement, and for some communities this will only come from better support.”

Attracting more investment and strengthening the capacity to innovate, could help rural businesses double their economic contribution. In turn that would help cut worklessness and poverty in rural areas, close the gap between rural and urban wages and help rural communities cope with future economic and environmental shocks.

He calls for:

  • A Rural Finance Forum to improve capital investment
  • A Rural Innovation Initiative to address the challenges of sparse and remote rural areas
  • Better access to business support networks
  • Collaboration between government, insurance and rural industries to better cope with shocks caused by disease and bad weather and develop new insurance products.

Government should convene national and regional summits to focus attention on the potential of rural economies, he added. The village of Broughton in Yorkshire, where a declining agricultural community has been transformed into a beacon of rural enterprise, shows what can be achieved.