Rural businesses in Warwickshire have been urged to take part in the first large-scale survey in the county to determine the impact of Covid-19 in the sector.
The Coventry and Warwickshire Local Enterprise Partnership (CWLEP) Growth Hub is collaborating with the Warwickshire Rural Hub – a business support organisation which is led by farm and rural businesses across Warwickshire and Solihull – and Warwickshire County Council to target around 1,300 businesses.
The results of the survey will be fed back by the CWLEP Growth Hub to the Government to help determine future funding and help for the sector.
Diversification, investment, innovation and skills are among the topics included in the Coronavirus survey and the responses will also feed into the delivery of Warwickshire County Council’s new economic strategy which identifies support for the rural economy as one of its priorities as well as plans to support the economic recovery in the county.
Craig Humphrey, the Managing Director of the Coventry and Warwickshire Local Enterprise Partnership (CWLEP) Growth Hub, said it is the first time a rural-focused survey of this scale has been undertaken by the organisations.
He said: “This survey was initiated from the CWLEP SME Supergroup Business Group meetings where rural representatives have been advocating for further support to be directed at businesses in this industry.
“This is a natural next step to gather intelligence and make decisions around resources based on the evidence from rural businesses.
“We started engaging more in-depth last year with the rural business community because of the European Union exit and specific issues affecting them particularly the food and drink and agricultural sectors which would have been severely impacted by the EU exit to help tackle and mitigate the impact.
“But the new challenge of Covid-19 and recent floods has put further pressures on rural businesses.
“This may be different to other businesses or be more severe because of the impact on labour, food businesses adapting to new regulations, farmers thinking about diversifying and adapting to new technological developments, and sales and trade that have been impacted by flooded farmland.
“We hope as many business owners as possible will complete the questionnaire so that we can help to provide the support which rural businesses actually need than what we think they need.”
Henry Lucas, a farmer and chair of the Warwickshire Rural Hub, said: “The Warwickshire Rural Hub has been helping farmers and rural businesses to prosper via its free membership for over 17 years.
“I would urge as many people as possible to fill in the questionnaire so that the problems being faced by rural businesses in the current Coronavirus crisis are highlighted and the results of the survey can be used to shape future support.”
Dave Ayton-Hill, Assistant Director for Communities at Warwickshire County Council, said: “The farming and agricultural sector plays a huge role in making Warwickshire the rural, green and attractive location that underpins and supports our wider economic base and particularly our tourism offer.
“The rural sector already faced new challenges and opportunities following Brexit as well as growth potential through the development and utilisation of innovative new technologies. But Covid-19 has brought new challenges. This survey will be used by the County Council and other partners to direct support for rural businesses as they deal with the impacts of Covid-19.
“We also hope there will be new opportunities. Local food and drink for example is growing in popularity and will play a key role as well reducing food miles and supporting our collective desire to reduce the carbon footprint of Warwickshire’s economy.”