NICRE evidence from the Covid-19 pandemic has demonstrated that rural businesses have previously shown resilience and adaptability in response to adversity and this crisis seems no different. I heard from firms about cost-cutting measures such as scaling back training budgets and delaying replacing equipment or employing staff. One business in North Yorkshire told me they had moved to being home-based as a ‘direct result of the cost-of-living crisis’, to cut rental and energy costs.
What’s more, businesses’ experiences of the pandemic have influenced their capacities to respond. More home- and hybrid working has made adaptation easier, but this requires high-quality broadband, which can be problematic in rural areas, as demonstrated by the findings of NICRE’s rural business survey. Without it, some rural businesses risk unsustainable transport and fuel bills as they continue to commute to the office or to clients.
Despite higher costs, some businesses told me that they had not increased their prices with inflation, in order to stay competitive and maintain longer-term demand. Others had implemented pay rises, either because it was already company policy, or to retain their staff. Importantly, not all rural businesses can mitigate the crisis. I was struck by how many businesses – often small accommodation providers – said there was little they could do to reduce costs. Their major outlays are energy and food, and customers naturally expect to be warm and fed. One B&B owner in Northumberland explained that she continues running the heating because ‘you don’t want that bad review on TripAdvisor’.