Small businesses in rural areas are struggling with a lack of public infrastructure and a shortage of skilled labour, according to a new report.
The news comes from a survey of more than 900 small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) by the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) and small business platform Xero.
Just over half of SMEs in business, retail or industrial parks said they were not satisfied with public transport provision, and this rose to 79% in rural or countryside areas. This compared with 42% in towns, villages and high streets.
The level of dissatisfaction was likely to be higher among SMEs in the north of England and the Midlands, and lower in the south of England.
There was also a divide when it came to broadband connectivity – 75% of SMEs overall said their area had reliable broadband, 82% in urban areas but only 56% in rural areas.
A number of SMEs also highlighted problems recruiting suitably-skilled workers.
Alex Veitch, director of policy and public affairs at the BCC, said: “Our research highlights the rural-urban divide that continues to exist between firms across the UK, with rural businesses generally reporting higher levels of dissatisfaction with the quality and availability of local resources.
“High-quality public infrastructure and access to a skilled labour force are both key to the success of a business, in particular SMEs, and today’s findings indicate that rural businesses are at a significant disadvantage.
“Government must urgently prioritise the development of public infrastructure.
“Such investment will not only enable local and small businesses to adapt and thrive, it will also create jobs and inject money into local economies across the UK.”
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Shadow secretary of state for environment, food and rural affairs Jim McMahon said: “The past 13 years of Tory rule have weakened the foundations of rural communities, with unaffordable housing meaning young people have to get out to get on, funding for transport cut, GPs and dentists stretched to breaking point, and community hubs such as village shops, post offices and pubs closing.
“It is only the Labour Party that has the answers to the challenges facing so many people across the country. Only Labour has the economic, social and political answers that our rural and coastal communities have been asking for.”