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Rural businesses could add billions to economy, says report

Firms have been urged to embrace digital technology.

Rural businesses could add billions to the economy if they are given the tools to embrace digital technology, according to a report.

Greater adoption of digital tools and services by rural firms could add between £1.2 and £2.5 billion to Gross Value Added (GVA), according to Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC) and Rural England.

The report says this is on top of more than £30 billion GVA which Scotland’s rural economy already contributes in the UK.

Analysis published on Monday also says at least £1.44 billion could be added to Scotland’s rural business turnover.

Doug Gurr, UK country manager for Amazon which commissioned the report, said: “Over the past 20 years, we’ve seen opportunities for rural entrepreneurs transformed through e-commerce, better delivery services and growing access to fast broadband.

“But as today’s report shows, there’s much further to go before anyone can say the rural-urban divide has closed.

“Embracing digital technology not only benefits the economy; it also allows rural communities to combine great quality of life with access to global opportunities.”

The report found south west, eastern and south east England, which have the largest share of rural businesses in the UK, would benefit most from greater digital adoption.

Scotland accounts for 9.6% of all rural businesses which could boost its rural economy if business owners were able to access reliable broadband.

Dr Jane Atterton, of the Rural Policy Centre at SRUC, said: “Rural Scotland is home to a significant number of businesses operating across all economic sectors.

“For the vast majority of these businesses, access to reliable, quick broadband is crucial for sustainability and growth.

She added: “With the right kinds of support, our report suggests that there could be a substantial economic boost, not to mention the positive impact on the sustainability of communities including the most remote rural areas.”

This report reinforces the importance of fully realising our digital potential for rural Scotland. Fergus Ewing

To unlock the billions of pounds from greater digital adoption in rural areas, Rural England and SRUC suggests recommendations for the public and private sectors.

They include streamlining digital support services and establishing digital enterprise hubs in rural towns which businesses can use or visit for better connectivity.

The report also recommends improving retraining opportunities and ensuring short training courses and online tools are available to small business owners.

It calls on businesses using superfast broadband to champion its benefits to their peers locally and recommends “stronger rural targeting” of existing policies and strategies.

Fergus Ewing MSP, Cabinet Secretary for the Rural Economy and Connectivity, said: “This report reinforces the importance of fully realising our digital potential for rural Scotland.

“I am particularly interested in the growth opportunities predicted for the many micro enterprises that are found often in remote locations that are successfully supporting their local economy and in turn an inclusive rural economy for Scotland.

“I very much welcome the interest and information in this report and look forward to seeing early progress to ensure the predictions for our rural economy become a successful reality.”

Environment Secretary Michael Gove welcomed the report, saying: “The internet has the potential to ensure the countryside can flourish in a way that combines preserving the environment with economic dynamism.

“Digital technology can open opportunities, build skills and connect rural businesses to global markets.”

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