Reshaping Staffordshire’s rural economy
A blog by David Cousins
Assistant principal of South Staffordshire College and chair of Staffordshire Chambers of Commerce Rural Business Forum
The March meeting was my first as the newly appointed chair of the Rural Business Forum and we had a lot to discuss as the impact of Covid-19 continues to play out on the rural business community of Staffordshire.
It is a great honour to take up the post and I and fellow forum members intend to make an impact in helping rural based businesses prosper in any way we can.
There is quite a list of challenges facing rural businesses at present and we touched upon several at the meeting including, access to funding; rural and cyber-crime; broadband; rural networking and links to our curriculum at SSC.
On funding and finance, I know that most local authorities have posted information on grants such as the Mandatory Local Restrictions Support Grant, Restart grants and discretionary grants on their websites and in newsletters. However, the challenge is to ensure that this information is effectively disseminated so that the grants are taken up by those who need them most.
Rural communities do not share the luxury of connectivity and networks as their counterparts in urban areas and this situation has been exacerbated by the lack of physical social contact, for example a conversation at the local pub or Young Farmers meeting simply has not been happening.
We are incredibly grateful that Jeremy Lowe from the NFU is an active member of our group. In his role as county advisor for Staffordshire he can listen to rural businesses about the issues they are facing and employ resources to effectively work on their behalf across all sectors.
Jeremy is doing a lot of work with schools and colleges in the county to make sure that farming and rural business is on the curricular and extra-curricular radar so that we are not only increasing awareness but bringing on the next generation of the workforce with the appropriate skills and knowledge to meet the demands of a changing rural business landscape.
Rural crime has also sadly increased with the pandemic as increased poverty has led to more thefts of equipment and livestock. Worryingly there has been an increase in the theft of lambs as lambing season reaches its peak.
One of my short-term aims as chair is to involve Staffordshire Police in the forum so that we can work towards raising awareness and preventative measures to curb this upward trend of criminal activity.
Finally, a call to you. Forum member Ian Jackson from Staffordshire County Council has drafted an economic strategic paper to formalise all the above and other issues into a working action plan. I would welcome comment from anyone involved in business in the rural areas of Staffordshire. I would also like to increase membership of the forum to harness as much expertise and knowledge as we can.
If you are interested in finding out more or coming along to a future Rural Business Forum, please contact Vicky Frost at the Chamber: firstname.lastname@example.org
If you want to talk about any business issues, you can call the Chambers switchboard on 01782 202222 or call the Stoke and Staffs Growth Hub Helpline on 0300 111 8002 or email: email@example.com
To join the Forum discussion click here Hot Topics — Staffordshire Chambers of Commerce