Congestion, poorly maintained local roads, and a lack of regional strategic planning are all combining to hinder economic growth in rural areas, according to a study by the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB).
The report, entitled ‘Going the extra mile: Connecting businesses and rural communities’, found that small businesses are overwhelmingly reliant on roads, with nine in 10 firms (89%) placing high value on the network, especially in rural areas with little or no access to public transport.
However, half of all small firms think the UK’s roads and public transport system have deteriorated in recent years, while only one in 10 small business owners thought roads and public transport had got better.
The top three issues reported by businesses based in rural areas were: congestion on local roads, potholes and the cost of fuel.
In its report, the FSB calls on the Government to use current and future devolution deals to directly address these issues and to commit to greater investment in local transport infrastructure.
Mike Cherry, FSB National Chairman, said: ‘The Government is investing in transport – but the lion’s share goes to big flagship projects on the strategic road network. Most small businesses mainly rely on their local roads and public transport, so there is a strong case to prioritise investment in these smaller projects which will help to alleviate congestion and bottlenecks.
‘The current devolution agenda in England presents a real opportunity to make a positive difference to rural communities. Small businesses want to see more resources earmarked for rural transport. This will help support rural small businesses as well as the UK tourism industry, which are both disproportionately affected when local bus networks and roads are left to deteriorate.’
The FSB also called for the Government to keep fuel costs down by maintaining its commitment to freeze the duty escalator through to the end of this Parliament.