Digital infrastructure boost will lead to urban brain drain, claims report

Country_MouseThe tap roots of the digital economy will not spread beneath the concrete of Tech City and other urban enclaves, but in the fertile soil of the UK countryside. That is the finding of a new briefing document from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), which claims that rural areas are set to overtake towns and cities as the main driver of Britain’s digital economy. As a result of improvements in the country’s digital infrastructure and transport links as well as a changing relationship between firms, employees and contractors, there are now more people moving to the countryside from towns and cities than those moving in the opposite direction. The briefing suggests that by 2025, the rural economy will be worth an additional £35 billion and the productivity of rural areas could outstrip urban areas for the first time since the industrial revolution.

According to the briefing, rural areas already contribute about 16 percent of Gross Value Added, 16 percent of employment and 26 percent of businesses in England. In 2012, there were 40 business start-ups for every 10,000 people in rural areas, versus 36 per 10,000 in large urban areas and 27 per 10,000 in other urban areas. The rate in London was 56 per 10,000.

The Defra report cites extensively from OECDE research including the fact that there is a far greater preponderance of flexible working employees in the countryside, with 16.7 percent of English employees work from home in rural areas, compared to 7.5 percent in urban areas. There are estimated to be about 2 million people working from home in England’s rural areas and, with the government’s commitment to invest hundreds of millions in digital infrastructure and expand superfast broadband coverage to 95 percent of areas by 2017, the percentage of people working from home is bound to increase.

Image: Scott Gustafson