Yesterday I visited the new state of the art Multi-Use Games Area (MUGA), in Dordon, North Warwickshire. Delivered by the previous Labour Council, with funding from the European Union’s rural development programme (LEADER), it is a perfect example of the positive social and economic impact that Europe is having on our rural communities here in the UK.
As the once "dirty man" of Europe we have come a long way since the 1980s and today we have some of the most sought after countryside in the world. From the LEADER funding, which means that more young people can benefit from activity and social interaction in Dordon, to legislation to protect our natural habitats, our membership of the European Union has enabled the UK to provide essential infrastructure for rural communities
And whilst I'm more used to sipping my tea from a mug rather than a flask, it is clear this means that our coast and country have become much more appealing places for runners, walkers and birders to name just a few. This means more visitors, more business and more income for communities like those in Warwickshire.
Yet, that can’t be and is not the whole story of the benefit of Europe to rural communities. On a visit last month to Strasbourg I met with members of our own socialist block of Parliamentarians from across Europe, including the President of the European Parliament, Martin Schultz MEP. During conversations, I was reminded that increasing pressures on our cities means that rural populations are set to grow. This challenge demands a new EU wide industrial strategy - putting in place the digital infrastructure that will empower rural citizens so they can also access the markets and technologies that drive economic growth.
As in the 1980s, with a previous Tory Government, this government is lagging - lacking the will to act. With their - tmarket will provide mantra - communities like Dordon were, at risk, of being left out of the digital economy. Thankfully the Digital Agenda for Europe programme has created the right environment and conditions to help to promote access to high-speed and secure broadband. For people in North Warwickshire it means that in the past 18 months alone more than 43,000 homes and businesses have been connected to super faster fibre broadband.
Earlier in the year I addressed the conference of the Manufacturers Association - the EEF - on the impact that the spread of digital is having on the labour market and the type of skills needed in our new Global economy.
Many of the classic ‘rural’ jobs, in agriculture, have already been lost; and with many cereal farmers planting and fertilising crops with sophisticated tractors that are guided by satellite GPS – it is perhaps only a short time before these machines are autonomous vehicles capable of doing all of these jobs without direct human involvement.
We already know companies have a hard time finding skilled digital technology experts; it's estimated that there will be up to 825,000 unfilled vacancies across Europe for ICT professionals by 2020-it is essential that families and young people in rural communities have access to IT skills to compete for these jobs
Furthermore, whilst the coffee shops and digital innovation hubs of East London and Manchester's Northern Quarter might seem a long way from where I was today, nearly all digital jobs are capable of being delivered anywhere with a good broadband connection. You may live rural, but the jobs you do overlap greatly with those done by urban dwellers, especially for the self-employed and those in jobs that are based on data, desk-based knowledge and information.
So, most people who live in rural communities like North Warwickshire, will feel the impact of the digital revolution on their jobs. Europe’s new Digital Single Market programme will ensure that every UK citizen, including the good people of Dordon who I met today, can become part of this revolution - connecting to high speed broadband and accessing the necessary skills, training and social networks.
The choice for Labour supporters in rural communities is clear – vote out, and who knows what sort of connectivity you and others in your community will have to the modern economy – probably none if you don’t pay for it yourself directly. OR vote Remain for a European community that has ambition to invest in rural communities so that all of us can play our part in the new economy of Europe.