Together we can, together we will: analysis of consultation responses

This report details the analysis of the National Council of Rural Advisers' (NCRA) consultation.

4. Infrastructure

4.1 The consultation document stressed there should be no reason why people living, working or visiting the rural economy should face great challenges in 21 st century Scotland.

The findings in this chapter are largely drawn from analysis of responses to the following consultation questions:
  • Question 7: Help ensure there are the same opportunities and access to services between urban and rural areas.
    • For people living and working in rural areas there are often big differences compared to urban areas in what services might be available (things like broadband, childcare, transport, community development etc.).. What do you need to enable you to choose to live and work in rural Scotland?
  • Question 8: Make sure Government policies, regulations, planning and support mechanisms help local businesses.
    • What types of policies, regulations, planning and business support need to be strengthened or removed to help a wide variety of small and micro businesses in rural areas?
    • Can you think of any problems in transport, housing, social care and digital infrastructure that prevent economic growth for your industry sector, business or community?

Opportunities for developing Scotland’s infrastructure to support communities and economic development

4.2 Unsurprisingly, many respondents highlighted infrastructure issues as having a particular impact on rural economic development and most highlighted concerns about broadband and transport.

  • 4.3 Several respondents suggested there is a need for targeted business/economic growth support that reflects the needs of the rural economy. As mentioned in previous chapters, there were comments on the need to consider the unique nature of rural employment including high levels of self-employment and people who hold multiple jobs. Across the comments on factors impeding economic growth were many suggestions about holistic, place-based and local approaches to planning, regulation, tax and finance; many of which would require action by the Scottish Government.
  • Participants asked for matters of regulation to reflect the impact on rural settings. One person gave the example of being required to get an annual MOT for their vehicle, while living on an island with no garage. Another noted that the Scottish Government is currently looking at increasing regulation in the short-term letting market and felt that it might harm businesses that host holidaymakers in rural areas. Several were critical of health and safety policies that they feel discourage small business owners in rural areas from becoming employers.
  • Several participants commented on rates and discounts. There were many comments about the future of the Small Business Bonus Scheme, in which
  • participants suggested that the re-introduction of rates could hamper small scale operations. A few respondents suggested that the re-introduction of sporting rates could put Scotland at a competitive disadvantage. One person urged the Scottish Government to reduce fuel duty in rural areas. Many urged for the provision of subsidies or grants to encourage businesses to start up in rural areas
  • There were calls for holistic approaches to implementation of planning. For example,
    • Some criticised inflexible procedures that do not recognise the complexity and changing nature of rural businesses and employment pathways. They called for faster decisions on planning matters.
    • Others called for an integrated approach to land use and management.
    • One asked for greater transparency around planning, for example clarity about the land available for development in a local area and the type of development that is allowed on particular types of land.
    • Another asked for more recognition of rural needs in planning processes, noting that they should accommodate changing use of farm steads which may need to adapt to incorporate new workers or ageing family members in order to survive.
    • Others asked for more planning protections for environmental, historic and culturally important sites.
  • Some asked for state intervention to support rural areas, particularly around employment and benefits. For example, one person urged the Scottish Government to introduce a rural Citizens’ Income Scheme, another suggested that zero-hour contracts be banned. Another respondent suggested the Scottish Government should undertake efforts to encourage migrant workers to rural areas of Scotland, arguing that a new Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme is needed to support transition around Brexit.
  • Some also asked for state intervention in relation to affordable house pricing and some called for more support around community land purchasing.
  • There were calls for investment and a re-prioritisation of resources to support rural economic development. For example,
    • Several described a perception that business development agencies do not have the reach, skills, knowledge or experience to effectively support small businesses in rural Scotland development.
    • They asked for tailored business support, with many describing the need for specialised knowledge about matters that affect rural businesses, particularly grants.
    • They appealed for recognition that some rural businesses need to diversify to provide sustainable employment across the year, and may require more development, planning and financial support than those in urban areas.
    • Some asked for simplification or support with challenging business processes, such as calculating VAT payments and establishing companies.
    • A few respondents asked for the introduction of interest-free loans for small businesses.
    • Others urged local authorities to invest in the creation of shared workspaces and to provide support for local enterprise networks.
  • Across comments there was a call for an enabling attitude and approach from public sector bodies. For example, some suggested that national procurement practices exclude rural businesses from acting as suppliers to public sector bodies in local areas. One respondent asked for added value investment in the food processing
  • sector to enable Scottish producers to compete more effectively with other countries.
  • Some argued for more recognition of activity that already works. The felt that this could help to avoid duplication of efforts and give grounds for communities and businesses to replace important resources or assets that are lost or falling into disrepair. Cited examples of success included: local income generation from renewable energy sources, promotion of the circular economy, initiatives such as GrowBiz that specifically support micro and small business development and the LEADER development process.
  • One person argued for existing farming subsidies to be withdrawn from shooting estates.

Opportunities and access to services

4.4 Participants’ reflections on infrastructure and access to services point to the challenges of rural living. Some mentioned that austerity has made things worse in recent years. Several respondents noted that it is unrealistic to expect the same level of provision across rural and urban areas but highlighted a sense of inequity in terms of matters that affect quality of life.

4.5 It was suggested that improvements to public transport infrastructure could benefit and enable independence for older members of rural communities, as well as young people who may not have access to a car. This would enable them to more easily access education, training, and employment within their home community, thereby reducing the need for young people to move to urban areas to access opportunities.

4.6 Some participants highlighted the serious personal impacts that of lack of adequate infrastructure has on them and their families. One participant explained that the lack of public infrastructure required them to commute for lengthy hours and use their leave entitlements to meet their caring responsibilities.

4.7 It was highlighted by one respondent that people living in rural communities may lose access to the legal justice system in coming years, if infrastructure provision does not improve, as courts and tribunal services are increasingly moving to online systems. They noted that research has identified a risk that individuals in rural areas who are eligible for legal aid may not be able to find solicitors to provide advice.

4.8 Across responses, there were repeat mentions of challenges in relation to:

  • Accessing benefits
  • Availability of childcare
  • Broadband and the expense of broadband alternatives (4G etc)
  • Public transport – specifically the need for different provisions to be linked up
  • Availability of healthcare services, including inadequate provision of carers
  • Parity of costs e.g. fuel/heating costs, delivery costs/charges across areas
  • Broken telephone lines
  • Declining high street services – post offices, banks
  • Declining resources for community spaces that support recreation and connectedness
  • Inadequate roads and cycle paths

Infrastructure – illustrative quotes

Policy that encourages the availability of more affordable housing in a rural context will improve access to housing for young people stay or migrate to the area, and older people to move into more suitable housing within their rural communities.
Scottish Land and Estates

The geographical lay out of the country can cause significant inconsistencies in health and social care provision. Hospitals, and other services, including mental health care as well as GP and dental provision have all been reduced at a local level. Services are often centralised to main towns and too many community services have been withdrawn.
Name withheld (Organisation)

The procurement and commissioning policies of many Councils and other public bodies undermine the rural economy rather than support it. There would be a significant impact if they did more to encourage small, micro and family businesses, and locally based providers.
Outside the Box

Often enterprises seem to get held back by over-onerous support application procedures, lack of planning flexibility and, what appears to be, little understanding of what small businesses need in a rural setting. …Business support needs to be tailored to the businesses.
Scottish Crofting Federation

It is extremely difficult […] to carry out what are taken for granted as simple tasks [...] The most accessible way of completing the likes of social security is through online processes. … Within education, subjects are heavily reliant on the internet.
Name withheld (Organisation)

Opportunities to share ideas and closer working between rural and urban Scotland could come from the concept of “business accelerators”, with its emphasis upon peer to peer learning. However, the majority of such organisations in Scotland are based in urban areas. We suggest the addition to the model of an urban-rural knowledge exchange dimension.
James Hutton Institute

A lack of joined up thinking when it comes to transport provision.

No protection of local housing which gets sold on the open market at prices outwith the reach of local people.
Scottish Crofting Federation

Small businesses should be greater protected by planning rules to prevent the national chains swooping in and swooping out after they have closed the local family companies.

The public sector could stimulate rural economic growth in its procurement practices by [...] local-sourcing of products and services, such as food supplies for public institutions.
Food and Drink Federation



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