Suffolk and Essex among England’s most challenging counties for rural businesses

Ben Underwood of the Country Land and Business Association.

Ben Underwood of the Country Land and Business Association. - Credit: Su Anderson

Suffolk and Essex have both been ranked among England’s most challenging business environments for rural companies in a table compiled by a landowners’ lobby group.

The first Country Land and Business Association (CLA) Rural Business Report scored English counties on a number of criteria, including starting up, digital connectivity, planning, rural innovation and skills and local relationships with rural businesses.

Essex was ranked 31st out of 39 counties and Suffolk was ranked 33rd. Norfolk came 34th but Cambridgeshire achieved a mid-table 20th place ranking.

Cheshire came top of the table, followed by Oxfordshire, Cumbria and Gloucestershire. Surrey and Nottinghamshire were in 5th and 6th place, but no East Anglian county made the top half of the table.

The report looked at areas which can support or challenge rural firms, including the extent of broadband and mobile coverage and adoption of local plans by planning authorities.

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CLA East regional director Ben Underwood said: “The purpose of this Rural Business Report is to celebrate the fantastic rural businesses operating across the country, and to highlight what is needed to help them overcome some of the main hurdles to investment and growth.

“It is high time that all rural businesses are valued and encouraged to grow and this table shines a light on some of the main factors that can help a business succeed.

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“Top of the list is connectivity. Almost any type of business can operate from a rural area if they have good quality mobile and internet connection.

“Suffolk gets average marks for broadband and 3G coverage and there is definitely room for improvement.

“Unfortunately getting the coverage that a business needs remains a postcode lottery and too many businesses are losing out.

“We need the Government, local authorities and network providers to focus on delivery especially in our most remote areas.

“A growing businesses often needs space or to update existing buildings and facilities. This can be frustrated by poorly managed planning systems.

“Suffolk scores well for the number of local plans it has in place, but the county’s planning authorities should be giving more encouragement to those looking to convert and change buildings, such as redundant farm buildings, to commercial or residential use.”

The report was designed to give a snapshot picture of the environment for rural businesses in each county in England.

The CLA said it was not intended to provide a comprehensive analysis, but to present an indication of the challenges faced by rural businesses.

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