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Rural Communities

Volume 730: debated on Thursday 30 March 2023

We want to ensure that rural areas and the people living within them are absolutely given the opportunity to flourish. We are supporting rural businesses in communities with £5 billion of Project Gigabit funding and £1 billion of shared rural network funding. We are improving their connectivity to make sure that rural areas thrive.

The new national forest has been of huge benefit to both my former coalmining communities and my rural communities in North West Leicestershire, to the point where many of the villages and communities just outside the forest would like to be part of it. Could the Minister give her advice on this matter?

What a tree-mendous question! Trees have transformed that previously scarred landscape, and I assure my hon. Friend that I also appreciate the lungs of Leicestershire, creating 200 square miles of forest. Some 9 million people visit that area and 5,000 jobs have been created, as have 100 km of cycling tracks. My hon. Friend sets me a challenge, which I relish: I will certainly look into how we can continue to expand the National Forest Company.

Thank you, Mr Speaker, and thank you for the email you just sent to us all, which announces that the new Clerk of the House is going to be Tom Goldsmith. I am grateful to have the opportunity to be the first to congratulate him.

Oh, I missed the statement—I am terribly sorry. I am useless; resign instantly. Anyway, I am congratulating him.

It is very important that rural communities look like rural communities. One of the things that we did in the 1945 Labour Government was to insist that people could not put advertising hoardings up along motorways outside towns. Unfortunately, lots of farmers these days are wheeling advertising hoardings along by motorways, which is dangerous for drivers on motorways. Is it not time that we put a stop to it?

The hon. Gentleman raises a technical question. I am happy to liaise with my colleagues in the Department for Transport on that particular matter, and I will write to him with a response.

According to a rural Scottish business panel survey last month, the impact of the cost of living is damaging rural Scottish businesses, with almost nine out of 10 having financial concerns and three quarters postponing investment plans due to cost increases. Despite what the Minister has said earlier, can she tell me what additional support she can provide to support rural communities struggling with higher costs?

There is a plethora of support, particularly around energy with the household support fund and including from my colleagues in the Department for Business and Trade—the artist formerly known as BEIS. Surely the hon. Lady has seen the announcement this morning on how we are supporting the transition to green energy, too, which will benefit constituents not only in Scotland, but right around the UK.