Rural recognition, recovery, resilience and revitalisation

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Pragmatix Advisory has been commissioned by the Local Government Association (LGA) to explore the economic challenges facing rural and coastal areas, with a particular focus on deprivation, and outline what steps government can take to strengthen the recovery and resilience of these communities within the current context.


Pragmatix Advisory has been commissioned by the Local Government Association (LGA) to explore the economic challenges facing rural and coastal areas, with a particular focus on deprivation, and outline what steps government can take to strengthen the recovery and resilience of these communities within the current context.

Many residents of English rural and coastal communities benefit from a high quality of life, the characteristics of which cannot be obtained in the cities and suburbs. From the outside, the chocolate box thatched villages, quaint (former) fishing harbours and breath-taking scenery paint an idyllic picture. However, life in the countryside or on the coast has its own often-distinct challenges with its own problematic social and economic consequences.

Some of these outcomes are visible from official statistics, such as: more poor quality housing; higher suicide rates; more drug-related deaths on the coast; weaker rates of educational attainment; an ageing population; and a £102 billion productivity gap.

Others are not so evident in the Government’s data. The use of council averages, for example, masks what can be significant localised differences within council areas –which themselves can cover large and varied geographies. Meanwhile, the choice of metrics deployed in the much-used Index of Multiple Deprivation sometimes fails to reflect the nature of rural and coastal disadvantage.

The geographical characteristics of rural and coastal locations –such as low population densities, sparsity, remoteness and peripherality –present social and economic challenges.

Their often-small labour and product market catchment areas influence the costs, scale and nature of economic activity that can be competitively undertaken. Rural and coastal locations have a disproportionate share of small businesses –and only certain industries thrive. Employment patterns are impacted: lower rates of unemployment may mask a paucity of full-time, full-year secure jobs.

Often facing smaller market catchments than their urban counterparts, businesses in rural and coastal areas have less potential to operate with economies of scale. High relative fixed costs make the viability of operations tougher, and the returns on investment weaker. This impacts decisions in the public as well as private sectors.

The mix of industries found in rural and coastal communities is limited by the constraints of geography and scale. Although a wide range of businesses can be found in rural and coastal areas, three sectors are often overrepresented: farming, fishing and agri-food; manufacturing (especially food and drink); and tourism. Key rural and coastal sectors pay substantially below the national average. Jobs in the most rural areas are among the lowest paid, and they are in sectors with high rates of zero-hour contracts and casual working. With a quarter of rural workers not earning the living wage, affordability of local housing is an issue for rural workers in local jobs. The full impact of covid on rural and coastal economies is yet to be seen.

To date, job losses have hit urban workers harder than rural and coastal workers. The evidence on the uptake of government emergency business support measures suggests little difference between geographies –but there is no clear data yet on the mid-term solvency of businesses after emergency support measures are lifted. There is a higher proportion of ‘micro’ enterprises, with under ten employees, in rural areas –and small businesses in coastal. Often family-owned and owner-managed, many of these businesses are now vulnerable to failure. Experience of the last recession suggests rural economies can be disproportionately impacted by macroeconomic downturns, and both rural and coastal areas can be slow to recover.

Major changes in the way we live our lives provide an opportunity to reset the economic relationship between different parts of the country, and for rural and coastal communities to make a substantial and long-lasting contribution to the sustainable prosperity of UK plc.

The pandemic has stimulated new ways of thinking, and accelerated behaviour changes in consumers and businesses alike. Three trends that have been stimulated or boosted by covid have the potential to redefine the economic value of rural and coastal locations. The rise of ‘staycations’ has reminded older and introduced new audiences to what the domestic tourism and leisure sectors have to offer. And, lockdown has allowed many to revisit how and where to carry out ‘office’ work. ‘Green values’ reinforce the importance of England’s natural assets and a local food chain. If these trends are nurtured, and the appropriate investment is made in rural and coastal communities to leverage the associated economic opportunities, there is the potential for a substantial levelling up of rural areas’ prosperity and contribution.

On plausible yet indicative assumptions, these three trends could contribute £51 billion per annum to the rural economy by 2030. This represents a growth of over ten per cent on the gross value contributed by the rural economy today. In this context, rural and coastal policy should not be seen purely through the lens of redistribution to reduce inequalities and deprivation. Instead, much the same as urban policy of the past two decades, it should be viewed in terms of investment to deliver sustainable returns to the national economy.

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Our recommendations for Government

Business recovery in 2021

  • Ensure businesses survive the pandemic.
  • Direct communication and support for micro and nano enterprises.
  • Financial assistance for new start-ups.
  • Strategic promotion, visitor management and capacity support.


  • Improved digital and physical connectivity key to unlocking a new economic paradigm.
  • Redesigned and expanded public transport network.
  • Superfast broadband and 4G coverage.

Homes and built environment

  • Provision of sustainable, energy efficient homes for social and genuinely affordable rent.
  • Revitalisation of town and village centres.
  • Capital infrastructure investment to mitigate impacts of climate change.

Business environment

  • More accessible and affordable further and higher education for young people, adult learners and those needing to retrain.
  • Support for businesses designed and delivered to meet the needs of small businesses.
  • Shared business space and community networking hubs.

Sustainable energy

  • National grid needs to grow capacity ahead of future demand, and support feed in from renewable energy schemes.
  • Scaled up electric vehicle charging network, including provision for visitors as well as resident population.

Local delivery

  • Recognition and response from Whitehall to specific challenges of varied communities –sparsity, remoteness and socio-demographics increase the cost of delivering local services.
  • Publish statistics reflecting complexity of rural and coastal communities enabling support to be directed towards areas of deprivation.

Case studies


  • Interviews conducted with three individuals in different parts of England between 28-30 June 2021
  • Case studies summarise the daily life, experiences and challenges of participants
  • Names have been changed. Regions are accurate, but the specific town/village names have not been included.