Bishop backs 'urgent' call for Government to better support rural economies


Rural communities are "vulnerable" and need better support from the Government if they are to flourish post-Brexit, the Bishop of St Albans has said. 

Dr Alan Smith welcomed a new report from the House of Lords Rural Economy Committee published on Saturday that sets out a number of recommendations to boost the economy across the British countryside. 

It calls for a comprehensive strategy to address a number of challenges facing rural communities, including Brexit, cuts to local authority budgets, digital connectivity, a lack of affordable housing, and an ageing rural population. 

It also identifies areas of opportunity, including the development of new high-growth businesses that support community flourishing. 

The report highlights the work of the Church of England in improving rural broadband and mobile connectivity through its partnership with Defra and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.  Under the accord, over 300 churches have installed digital infrastructure to beam internet signals off their spires. 

Dr Alan Smith, Bishop of St Albans, said the recommendations were "rurally literate" and that the report was a "serious and urgent call" to the Government to implement an integrated and long-term rural strategy. 

He said that with "strong backing" from the Government, rural areas could make an "enhanced national contribution". 

"Those like me, who live and work in the countryside will recognise the significant opportunities and challenges it identifies," he said. 

He continued: "It is my hope that the Government will recognise the value of this report and embrace the many difficulties identified within the findings.

"The challenge of housing for working age people and equal access to services is clearly something that must be addressed.

"As we approach a post-Brexit landscape we must be conscious how vulnerable our rural communities are and make sure their interests are protected in any future Government action."