SPARC Calls For New Rural Enterprise Zone

South Pennines Rural Enterprise Zone to support local digital economy

SPARC has written to the Chair of the Leeds City Region Enterprise Partnership (LEP) asking him to set up a South Pennines Rural Enterprise Zone. The initiative is an important step towards enabling rural businesses, community groups and citizens across the South Pennines region realise the opportunities and benefits of the digital economy.

The closing date for applications is September 18 2015. Just under 3 weeks to apply.

The Chancellor George Osborne announced in the Summer Budget that all Local Enterprise Partnerships now have the opportunity to support an Enterprise Zone and all can now bid.

This will allow more places outside of our core cities to have the opportunity for an Enterprise Zone and what it can bring in terms of delivering local growth. This reflects the European Commission's Digital Agenda which aims to bridge the gap between rural and urban digital economies.

'Smarter Villages' Blueprint

The request comes ahead of the publication of a ground-breaking report looking into how the gap between rural and urban digital economies can be narrowed. The report, from the European Commission-funded DigiChampz Initiative is based upon several case studies carried out across Kirklees. DigiChampz has set out, for the very first time, a 'smarter villages' blueprint for rural digital economies which can be used across the European Union. Project partners would like the South Pennines region to be the first rural area to showcase what can be done to improve productivity, promote health and wellbeing, and open up international markets using branded goods and services from this region.

The full DigiChampz Report will be made publicly available shortly.

SPARC has set out a proposed Rural Digital Strategy based upon the observations and recommendations set out in the DigiChampz Report.

Proposals also include the setting up of rural digital enterprise and community hubs to support telecommuters, a new rural data centre to help support the Northern Powerhouse strategy, and a network of digital champions, business mentors and ambassadors to help promote e skills, e strategy, and community inclusion. This fits very well with the role of libraries as local knowledge centres to support economic and social prosperity. The introduction of a Pennine Pound scheme would keep spend local and help to increase footfall to rural shops and businesses. The scheme could be supported by the South Yorkshire Credit Union who are working closely with the Cabinet Office on e identity services as well as schemes to make their customers' money go further.

The proposed South Pennines Rural Enterprise Zone would be from Penistone in the South through Holmfirth and the Colne Valley to Calderdale in the North.

Further details on Enterprise Zones are available at: http://enterprisezones.communities.gov.uk/opportunities-places-benefit-enterprise-zones-boom/

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