Fibre broadband to drive growth and jobs in rural areas

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Fibre broadband will help the countryside overtake towns and cities as the driving force behind the UK’s economy for the first time, according to research.

The latest study from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said rural areas currently account for 16% of gross value added, 16% of employment and 26% of businesses in England.

But this is set to grow as increased connectivity enables more flexible and home working arrangements, growth in knowledge-intensive businesses such as computer programming and consultancy, and an increased transfer of innovation in areas of climate change and renewable energy.

The report said such trends would lead to greater job growth, reduced commuting times and greater productivity in the countryside over the next decade, growing faster than towns and cities.

The government is supporting the growth by increasing broadband and mobile phone growth. It recently announced a £780m investment to achieve 95% superfast broadband coverage by 2017 and £13.1m under the Rural Community Broadband Fund to reach less accessible areas.

Another study from DCMS suggested that the government’s initial investment to achieve 90% coverage could result in annual gains of £6.4bn by 2024, with £3.3bn of these accruing to rural areas.

Environment Secretary Elizabeth Truss said: "This is a truly exciting time for rural communities with the countryside set to become even more of an economic powerhouse for the UK, building our economic security."

"Improved infrastructure is a great driver of change and our investment in broadband and transport links, together with improved mobile phone signals, is unlocking the huge potential for growth in the countryside where entrepreneurial activity is outstripping many parts of the UK."

She added: "Whether you’re in a cottage in Cornwall or a small business in one of our great national parks, you are better connected now than ever before – ultimately that means greater opportunities, more jobs and improved wages and a better future."

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