The project advisory group recently reviewed the OECD’s Rural Policy 3.0, an overarching framework to help national governments support rural economic development. The policy advocates the promotion of competitiveness through investment, rather than the more traditional subsidy programmes aimed at specific sectors, now considered ineffective and outdated.
Through this policy lens, rural regions are seen as places of opportunity and engines of national prosperity, albeit areas that face significant structural challenges in terms of a lack of infrastructure and distances to markets. A common trend across all OECD countries is the ageing population, which the report argues should be seen as a significant opportunity, rather than merely a challenge. The fact that people are living longer is a sign of progress and provides a market for health, social care and other age-related goods and services.
However, in the context of an ageing population, growth will become increasingly dependent on increasing productivity, where a smaller workforce produces the same output because of advances in technology and an increase in skill levels.
Whilst rural regions contain the vast majority of the land mass, water and other natural resources, they are home to just a quarter of the population. Economic outcomes also depend on proximity to urban centres and policy approaches will need to vary accordingly.
The opportunities for rural areas arise from diversifying the economy beyond agriculture and other natural resource-based sectors, to embrace manufacturing, eco-system services, tourism, renewable energy generation, as well as arts and cultural industries. Fostering entrepreneurialism may be more difficult in rural regions, but a focus on rural characteristics of uniqueness and locally specific assets can provide opportunities for new business ideas.
The aim needs to be on promoting competitiveness rather than equalisation. The report argues for a radical shift in emphasis away from predetermined strategic sectors, to understanding the strengths and assets of an area so that local distinctiveness and innovation can shape development.
Accepting that Rural 3.0 is a high-level strategic policy brief of rural regions across the OECD area, not all of the themes are relatable to Carmarthenshire. Nonetheless, the report opens up a useful discussion about the need for more nuanced policy approaches depending on the typology of the particular rural area, the relationship between rural regions and urban centres, and the importance of niche and unique products and services.
To view the full feasibility assessments and accompanying reports see below: