Unlocking the digital potential of rural areas – research

Rural England CIC and Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC) has been undertaking a research project, supported by Amazon, to explore the economic potential where businesses in rural areas take-up digital opportunities arising from broadband, mobile and other networks.

This project has taken an independent look at businesses’ use of digital connectivity, including how they use it, what benefits arise, what barriers they face and what future potential they see, especially if barriers can be overcome.

This is an important topic for the future of the rural economy and its varied businesses.  The e-economy is driving business efficiency, productivity and competitiveness, and is changing the way some go about their business.

Rural Based Businesses Survey

A big thank you to all the owners, directors and managers from rural based businesses who took part in our survey. The survey closed to new responses on 8th September. We were delighted to receive responses from businesses in rural locations right across the UK. The information from the survey forms a key part of the project and will now be carefully analysed.

More about the rural economy and the research project

Recent Government statistics report that over half a million (537,000) registered businesses are based in the rural areas of England alone, accounting for almost a quarter of all, registered business in the country.  These employ around 3.5 million people.  When it comes to engaging in innovation, figures indicate that rural based businesses are broadly the equal of their urban counterparts.

In Scotland, rural areas account for 98% of the land mass and nearly a fifth of the population.  The main sources of private sector jobs in remote rural areas are in agriculture, forestry and fishing, and in accommodation and food services. In accessible rural areas the manufacturing sector and retail and wholesale sector are also important sources.

Rural Britain is becoming better connected.  According to Ofcom three-quarters of rural premises now have access to a 10 Mbps or faster broadband connection.  Government publications indicate that in areas such as Cornwall businesses that upgraded to a superfast connection have achieved significant productivity gains.

The digital economy is growing rapidly.  As rural Britain gets connected it is important to identify the growth potential and how businesses can capitalise on it to bridge the urban-rural divide.

This is why Rural England CIC and SRUC are asking rural businesses from across the UK to respond to the survey consultation and input to this landmark research.  Responses will be analysed alongside official statistics, interviews with stakeholder groups, economic analysis and policy discussions with politicians.

The research aims to understand better:

  • How to grow the digital economy in rural – areas through e-commerce, exports and productivity gains;
  • The level of digital skills and capabilities in rural areas and how to improve them;
  • What digital tools and services best support rural businesses;
  • What enables some businesses to relocate successfully to rural areas;
  • The business sectors in rural areas likely to gain most from digital technology;
  • The best rural locations to set-up and manage a digitally-empowered business.
  • The research also aims to identify policy ideas that could help deliver the digital potential of the UK’s rural areas.

    Brian Wilson, Chair of Directors at Rural England CIC, said: “Considerable attention has been paid to the lack of connectivity in rural areas.  Whilst that remains a key issue, we are interested in what’s happening in places where there is good digital infrastructure and how effectively it’s being used.  The digital economy is critical to the long term prosperity of rural areas.  Our evidence-based study, listening to rural businesses and stakeholders, will be the first of its kind and we look forward to understanding better how to accelerate growth of the digital economy in rural areas.”

    Amazon are supporting this research to help identify how and in what ways the digital revolution can bridge the urban-rural divide, to create significant growth and job opportunities for the rural economy.

    Stay in touch

    There are different ways you can get and stay involved with this research:

  • Complete the rural based business survey
  • Look out for updates and posts on this webpage
  • Follow the project and help spread the word via Twitter: @ruralenglandcic
  • Useful links