Digital adoption could power rural areas

Written by Mark Evans

Research by Rural England and Scotland’s Rural College, commissioned by Amazon, estimates that if digital tools and services were more widely adopted, they could deliver at least GBP15bn per year for the rural economy with rural microbusiness and small-sized business seeing the greatest returns.

The report found that the South West, Eastern and South East regions, which have the largest share of rural businesses in the country, are set to benefit the most from greater digital adoption.

Microbusinesses (0-9 employees) in rural areas would see the greatest benefit, generating an additional GBP9.4bn in annual business turnover; followed by GBP4.6bn for small businesses (10-49 employees), GBP700m for medium-sized businesses (50-249 employees) and GBP200m for large businesses (over 250 employees).

Rural businesses see significant benefits now and in the future in terms of assisting remote working (30 per cent of rural businesses), improving access to customers/suppliers (29 per cent), improving business efficiency (28 per cent), improving data storage and security (25 per cent) and enabling more business flexibility (25 per cent).

Almost four-in-five rural business owners believe digital tools and services are important to their future growth potential. Cloud computing is seen as the biggest driver (67 per cent), closely followed by 5G mobile networks (54 per cent), the Internet of Things (47 per cent) and Machine Learning/Artificial Intelligence (26 per cent).

However beyond issues with internet reliability and speed, over half (52 per cent) of rural business owners say they face some form of skills-related obstacle to adopting digital to unlock more growth, such as recruiting people with appropriate skills to finding training for their existing workforce. Almost a third (30 per cent) have difficulty finding external or outsourced digital connectivity support, 14 per cent have difficulty accessing appropriate external digital training for the existing workforce and one-in-five (20 per cent) say their existing workforce lacks sufficient skills or they struggle to recruit people with appropriate digital skills.