The price of energy and agricultural commodities featured early in George Osborne’s Autumn Statement to Parliament today. They share the blame for the UK’s economic slowdown in the last 18 months.
But these were not the only rural interests in the Autumn Statement. Some detailed proposals which did not command the headlines include:
- Rural Broadband: £20 million Rural Broadband Community Fund for superfast broadband to rural homes and businesses. This will be supported by pilot work in North Yorkshire.
- £15 million for up to six pilot Rural Growth Networks. These will demonstrate how local authorities and Local Enterprise Partnerships can work with the planning regime and targeted infrastructure investment to support rural growth. Of this, £2 million over 3 years is aimed at rural enterprises led by women, particularly those in the Rural Growth Networks.
- Organic farmers may be exempted from regulations controlling the use of nitrate-based fertilisers – consultations are to follow
- Red Tractor and other certification schemes will reduce the inspection and compliance burden on farm businesses
- £100 million of RDPE funding to help small businesses with skills, facilities and competitiveness
- £25 million to promote rural tourism, including £10 million within RDPE to develop rural tourist destinations
- A Food and Drink Export Action Plan – a summit will be held in March 2012 to boost innovation in small agri-food businesses
- £15 million Rural Community Renewable Energy Fund will help communities with the upfront cost of renewables projects
- Forestry Commission, England, to offer 45 training opportunities for new Forestry Apprentices, working with private companies
- £80 million investment for new facilities at the Institute of Animal Health (the infamous Pirbright laboratories)
The Autumn Statement also contains broader implications for the rural economy. This list is by no means exhaustive:
- Fuel price increases of 3p/litre due in January now deferred until August, with August’s further increase scrapped
- Tax relief for investment in new business: Seed Enterprise Investment Scheme (SEIS) from April 2012 will allow 50% Income Tax Relief for new business investment and CGT exemption for gains reinvested through SEIS in the same year.
- Extension of Business Rates Relief
- Corporation Tax to be down to 23% by 2014
- Infrastructure Investment: An additional £5 billion of spending on infrastructure. The National Infrastructure Plan has been updated.
- Pension funds will further bolster infrastructure investment through an Insurers’ Infrastructure Investment Forum. This could release a further £20 billion for infrastructure investment.
- New Cabinet Committee on Infrastructure, chaired by the Treasury Chief Secretary, to monitor the delivery of 40 infrastructure projects most critical to growth.
- Proposed changes to the Infrastructure Planning Regime by mid-2012 will reduce the burden of pre-application work – this threatens to undermine the enormous emphasis put on this vital preparatory stage by the Infrastructure Planning Commission in its short life
- Other planning reforms should also mean an easier run for development proposals: a remit for key consenting and advisory agencies to promote sustainable development; a 13 week maximum timescale for most non-planning consents; easier claims for costs against statutory consultees who have prompted a refusal of planning permission later overturned on appeal; a review of the Habitats and Wild Birds Directive to ensure it does not cause unnecessary costs and delays.
- The downside of all these planning changes may be a reluctance on the part of agencies to promote robust objections, poorer preparation of major development proposals and weaker protection for important habitats and species
- Look out too, for consultations on proposals which will make it easier to convert agricultural buildings to office, leisure and retail space.
- Business Finance Partnership to provide £1 billion outside the banking network for investment in smaller businesses.
- National Loan Guarantee Scheme to guarantee bank funding for smaller businesses over two years.
- HE Global, a new online information and advice portal for Higher Education wishing to expand abroad – this is intended to bring government, universities and industry expertise together to promote educational exports. Given our world-leading food expertise, this may be an indirect way to promote food and rural businesses to a global audience
- Numerous housing measures, not least improved discounts on the Right to Buy social housing and a commitment to reinvest the proceeds in new social housing. But this will benefit rural areas?
- Changes to health and safety provisions will exempt self-employed people who pose no risk to others from H&S requirements, as well as simplifying guidance, more consistent application between local authorities, limitation of accountability to risks that can realistically be managed and a stronger message to the EU on the importance of a risk- and evidence-based approach
- The establishment of a Data Strategy Board to maximise value from Met Office, Ordnance Survey, Land Registry and Companies House data, to provide a free range of core reference datasets, may help effective rural land management
More generally, rural skills development may be able to benefit from:
- £250 million pilot fund to enable business to design, develop and purchase the vocational training programmes it needs
- Improvement to apprenticeship programmes with reduction in red tape
- Kite-marking of courses that employers value by the science, technology, engineering and maths sector skills councils
- Numerous measures may make it easier to employ and dismiss workers
And Look Out For:
- 6 December: further tax announcements although we already know that the CGT exempt amount is frozen at £10,600 for 2012-13
- December: PM to set out the government’s strategy for ensuring the UK is the best location for translational research science in the life sciences. In particular this will support the work of universities, NHS, private investors and businesses. Will food and the rural contribution to human health get a look-in?
- New permitted development rights for non-domestic micro-generation of electricity
- A review of the impact of the freshwater legislative framework