Productivity: Rural Areas

Part of RAF Valley: Funding and Employment – in Westminster Hall at 5:13 pm on 14th October 2020.

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Photo of Miriam Cates Miriam Cates Conservative, Penistone and Stocksbridge 5:13 pm, 14th October 2020

I congratulate my hon. Friend Scott Mann on securing the debate.

Rural productivity is an issue of great importance to my constituents in Penistone and Stocksbridge. I recently visited a dairy farm in the constituency where farmers are working hard to improve productivity by introducing new technologies that will increase milk yields. Such technologies require the collection and processing of real-time data from cattle, and this in turn requires reliable, high-speed and affordable broadband. All businesses are becoming more reliant on broadband, and there is now a direct relationship between internet speed and how much productive work can be done. In the rural broadband survey that I am currently conducting in my constituency, however, nearly 60% of respondents tell me that their broadband is slow or very slow, so it is hardly surprising that rural productivity is falling behind.

Businesses and people working from home do not require broadband just for sending emails or online shopping. The nature of work has changed, and high-tech solutions and high-quality virtual meetings require a high-quality connection. There are no easy answers to these problems, and we need community power as well as support from central Government in order to seek innovative local solutions.

Of course, broadband speeds are not the only factor limiting rural connectivity. Poor bus and train services restrict opportunities to travel to well-paid work in the local area, in stark contrast with vastly better services in urban areas. Again, I believe there is an opportunity for community power to improve transport connectivity. South Pennine Community Transport, a fantastic local community interest company near my constituency, is trialling a new regular bus service between rural villages and Stocksbridge town. The service will connect people to jobs and leisure services and could be financially self-sustaining in under two years. Many millions of people live in rural communities in this country, and it is not just for economic reasons that we need to level up. Rural life, culture, tradition and values are a valuable part of this country’s history and our future, and we need to make sure that young people are able to stay in those communities and have productive jobs.