E RADAR and the HD8 Network are calling for more strategic investment to help rural businesses realise the full potential of the digital economy and narrow the rural digital divide.
Speaking at a high-level round-table at the European Commission in London, HD8 Network's founder Merewyn Sayers expressed concern that many businesses across rural Kirklees are struggling to get the appropriate help, advice and support on what’s possible when trading online. Instead, resources seem to be spent on businesses in urban centres.
This is creating a two-tier digital economy, a rural digital divide which is also imposing other negative impacts on local communities by reducing rural areas to mere ‘commuter belt’ status.
There are rural businesses already utilizing the digital economy successfully; but enabling many more would be better. With 4.2 million workers in the UK now shunning the commute by working from home and the country experiencing an explosive growth in so-called back bedroom businesses, market forces are now upsetting this urban trend.
If the digital economy can enable people to live and work in the community they will spend their money here, rather than in towns and cities. This can only help to support local businesses already struggling under the pressure of ever-changing consumer behaviours.
"The real challenge for the digital economy is how we get traditional non-digital businesses - the butcher, hairdresser, local producer, small manufacturer - online, and trading well."
"The digital economy is still in its infancy in rural Kirklees. Lack of decent broadband is one issue. But we also need more investment to show businesses what can be done online to bring them more customers, as well as to improve their commercial e skills."
The round-table at Europe House in Westminster was organised as part of DigiChampz, an EU-funded initiative looking into the role of the digital economy in Holmfirth and the Denby Dale areas. Other speakers included those from the Countryside Alliance, the Global Consumer Markets Association, Nominet, FSB, CISCO, House of Lords, and DWP.
Will Roebuck, whose company E RADAR partnered with the Digital Policy Alliance in the DigiChampz project said:
"The new Digital Commissioner has announced that he wants to narrow the gap between urban and rural digital economies. We need to develop more branded rural online trading hubs to unlock local supply chains and sell quality, regionally-produced goods into global markets."
"Kirklees Council is making positive progress on broadband, but it’s slow work. We also need to see more private sector initiatives, such as the proposed Farnley Country Park, to help drive up entrepreneurism, online business and digital inclusion across our rural areas,” Will said.
A full report on the DigiChampz Initiative will be available next month. Meanwhile, the HD8 Network, E RADAR and DigiChampz are inviting businesses and local groups to show their support in transforming rural Kirklees into a competitive digital economy which supports prosperity for all.
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