An overhaul of public transport and education linking learning to business start-up opportunities are some of the big ticket items that will help unlock North Yorkshire’s economic potential.
Alongside those it would require significant investment in mobile and superfast broadband and devolution.
But alongside these, the county’s independent Rural Commissioners have been told that strong leadership, playing to local strengths, hyper-local problem solving, better support for micro-businesses and protecting the environment are just as important in building a sustainable future.
Hearing evidence on the theme of jobs and the economy yesterday (January 23rd) there were powerful representations from small business as well as big organisations including the local enterprise partnership and university research experts.
First to give evidence was Mark Pybus who started to diversify on his family farm near Catterick 15 years ago and is now the manager of Crabtree Hall Business Centre. The centre offers serviced office space for small businesses alongside a café and a children’s nursery which employs 32 people. Giving evidence Mark said: “We opened the business centre in 2007 but by 2010 the broadband we had was not fit for purpose so we started looking for an alternative. We invested in and installed our own super-fast connection in 2012/13 and Crabtree Community Broadband (CCB) followed. It provided affordable superfast connectivity to businesses and villages predominantly west of the A1 as far as Masham and Leyburn. That company didn’t generate much income, but meant we were able to cover our own infrastructure costs. CCB was then sold to Air Broadband as the number of customers grew beyond what we have the technical ability and resources to support.
“Our biggest challenge today is transport which impacts greatly on our recruitment because there are no local buses to bring our young workforce in or take them home. We are tackling this by improving retention rates via supporting our staff to take further qualifications while they work and earn.”
Carolyn Frank is the Development Manager for the Federation of Small Business in North Yorkshire: “9 out of 10 of our members, who are largely micro businesses employing 10 or less people, said road rather than rail improvements would benefit their businesses to get people to work.
“Particularly in North Yorkshire we need to understand the value of the smallest businesses in those rural areas where they can be the mainstay of the local economy.
“We need a reassessment of public transport based on timetables as much as investment, 100 per cent mobile and broadband coverage. We also need an end to late payments effecting cash flow in small businesses and more mentoring which is often more important than a one off grant. In addition we must make local work the number 1 outcome from education, including self-employment which is so overlooked in schools and colleges.”
Speaking following the hearing Chair of the commission, The Very Rev. John Dobson DL said: “We have heard a great deal about improving connectivity via better transport, technology and education but equally about the importance of the sense of place comes up repeatedly. The concept that success may well be dependent on playing to our strengths and staying true to what we have – that ‘draw of North Yorkshire’ rather than relying on major investment to transform us into something we are not.
“There is clearly a need to consider our landscapes and natural assets as capital and there’s a key theme about protecting our natural environment given the big part it plays in that sense of place here.”
Giving his evidence the Chairman of York, North Yorkshire and East Riding LEP, David Kerfoot MBE DL said: “We need to play to our strong sense of place but to give that place the power it needs to thrive.
“Devolution is critical. Currently we are treated as second or third division. The areas with devolution and the powers and budget that go with that are in the premier league and getting the funding that goes with that.”
Rural Commissioner, Heather Hancock LVO DL, said: “Rural communities across North Yorkshire are full of economic opportunity but longstanding obstacles are blocking their potential. It’s clear we will need to take bold action to create a brighter future.
“I believe that the more variety we have in rural jobs and businesses, the more resilient our economy becomes, and that new markets, business opportunities and innovation will result.”
85 per cent of North Yorkshire is classed as very rural or super sparse and The Rural Commission was set up in autumn 2019 by North Yorkshire County Council to try and identify ways to help these communities to grow and prosper.
The commission is an independent body and over an eight-month period it will examine the following themes in depth:
- Farming and food - 18 December 19
- Economy and Jobs - 23 January 20
- Housing - 26 February 20
- Education, schools and training - 26 March 20
- Transport - 22 April 20
- Accessibility – digital broadband and mobile - 20 May 20
- Energy & environment - 17 June 20
The purpose and aims of the Rural Commission are to:
- Later this year (2020) they will recommend the actions that local partners should take over the next 10, 20 and 30 years in order to maximise the sustainability of the super-sparse rural communities in North Yorkshire.
- Improve the evidence base and arguments that will enable local partners to make the case successfully for increased government support to maximise the sustainability of the super-sparse rural communities in North Yorkshire.
- The panel is aided by a reference group of key stakeholders which includes the leaders of the district councils in North Yorkshire, the 2 national park authorities in the county and North Yorkshire and East Riding Local Enterprise Partnership.