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New evidence identifies rural employment needs

The economic recovery of rural West Midlands is at risk due to high levels of public sector employment, evidence gathered by Advantage West Midlands shows.

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And crucial factors which need to be addressed are broadband availability, transport and affordable housing.

However, there are also high levels of home working (three times the level of urban areas) and a high level of entrepreneurship, showing that the region’s residents are creative and resilient. And the rural unemployment rate is declining as we come out of recession.

The regional development agency has published evidence which drills down to economic and access problems in very local areas which can be masked by standard national government statistics.

The evidence shows that currently 25 per cent of rural jobs are in the public sector. This is a major concern for some rural communities, especially when linked with poor access to alternative work.

Rural areas contribute 33 per cent to the region’s economy. Some 80 per cent of West Midlands land is rural, with 35 per cent of the regions population living in rural areas and 34 per cent working in them.

People working in urban areas tend to have higher salaries – up to 8,000 a year for a Bromsgrove commuter compared to someone working locally.

Other challenges are the lack of affordable housing, some areas with low skills bases and the fact that West Midlands farms have lower business productivity and levels of diversification when compared to English averages.

Market towns are seen as key to rural employment but some of these have been hit by the closure of national companies such as Woolworths.

A report on the evidence gathered, called the Rural Evidence Base 2010, provides a comprehensive analysis of rural issues and includes the Rural Disadvantage Indicator which builds on the national Index of Multiple Deprivation. Together, they review the current state of the rural economy, housing affordability and the level of acces to services.

Mark Pearce, Corporate Director Economic Regeneration at AWM, said: Rural areas are important to our economy. More than a third of our residents live in rural areas and contribute a third of the region’s economic outputs.

“Rural areas face significant challenges of low wages, high levels of public sector employment, poor broadband availability and affordable housing. Future regeneration of rural areas will need to address these issues.

The Rural Evidence Base 2010 has been shared with partners to influence their future investment plans to benefit the rural economy using limited resources. This provides them with an invaluable resource, identifying key rural issues.”

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