Could Brexit provide the impetus for a new approach to rural development?

January 2020 | Featured, Rural policy

The project advisory group recently reviewed the 2018 paper ‘After Brexit: 10 key questions for rural policy in Wales’. With contributions from several eminent academic experts, the piece provides a thoughtful consideration of the potential impact of Brexit on rural communities, questioning how policy strategies should change to mitigate the threats and take advantage of any opportunities.

The report’s authors outline the potential vulnerabilities of a post-Brexit world, in which agricultural subsidies and generous EU funding for rural development come to an end, alongside a potential loss of export markets. They argue that these structural challenges force a fresh approach, if not a complete rethink, on rural development policy.

The rural economy is rooted in Wales’s natural environment, and whilst agriculture is an important industry, it isn’t the whole picture. There is a recognition that there are growing markets in tourism and food, fields in which rural Wales is well placed to innovate. There are also opportunities for nurturing niche sectors, such as horticulture, local food production for local consumption, and the production of luxury goods, such as wool and cashmere.

Rural Wales is also vulnerable to demographic change, which might be exacerbated post Brexit. Whilst there was never a high proportion of EU nationals living in rural Wales, numbers of them do work in certain sectors, including in tourism, hospitality and food production. The potential loss of these EU nationals, continuing outmigration of youngsters, and in-migration of retired people will further challenge rural policymakers.

There will also be stiff competition for scarce resources: in the absence of ring-fenced EU funding, agricultural and rural development projects will be competing for the same pots of money as public services, including health, social care and education, all of which have suffered major budget cuts.

The report argues that if rural communities are to adapt to a radically changing world, different governance structures will be needed. An example of this might be where major businesses that already have an interest in rural Wales – such as utility companies or major food retailers, who both buy from rural suppliers and sell to rural customers – play an enhanced role in the governance of public goods and services.

The outcome of the 2016 referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU forced a debate on how public money is spent in rural areas and exposed the vulnerability of a farming industry reliant on subsidies. In response, the report shines a light on how a change of approach, brought about because of the challenges of Brexit, could provide opportunities for rural Wales.

To view the full feasibility assessment and accompanying reports see below:

Feasibility assessment

After Brexit: 10 key questions for rural policy in Wales

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