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Local businesswoman campaigns for better rural roads

Helmsley business owner joins FSB in calling for investment in neglected rural transport

Local Helmsley businesswoman Carolyn Frank has attended an event at the Houses of Parliament to highlight issues of importance to the North York Moors when it comes to neglected rural transport.

Twenty MPs attended the event, demonstrating the importance of the topic, including Mark Pawsey MP (Anna Soubry’s PPS), Stuart Burgess CBE, former chair of the Commission for Rural Communities and Stephen Joseph OBE, CEO of the Campaign for Better Transport.

Carolyn Frank, who owns Helmsley’s Libby Butler Jewellers with her partner, is a member of the Rural Affairs and Tourism Committee at Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) Policy. A new report by the FSB shows that half of all small firms think the UK’s roads and public transport system have deteriorated in recent years.

Only one in 10 (10%) small business owners thought roads and public transport had got better – demonstrating a real need to prioritise infrastructure investment in local and rural road networks alongside big projects on the Strategic Road Network.

FSB found small businesses are overwhelmingly reliant on roads, with nine in 10 firms (89%) placing high value on the network. Rural businesses are even more likely to rely on roads as they often report little or no access to public transport links like rail or buses.

Carolyn raised multiple points about transport issues in the local area, including the fact that bus timetabling is not suitable for businesses, making it difficult for employees to use them to get to and from work. She discussed the fact that devolution is a concern to rural areas, as city regions will not have an interest in smaller towns like Helmsley. Carolyn proposed that funding and decision making re: transport is either kept at a local level or that there is clear accountability for the ruling city/Mayor to prioritise rural areas as well as major towns.  

A third point raised by Carolyn was around poor road maintenance, with many in remote areas barely left with any kind of road surface after years of neglect.

The FSB report the event was launching, ‘Going the extra mile: Connecting businesses and rural communities’, demonstrates how congestion, poorly maintained local roads, and a lack of regional strategic planning are all combining to pose a significant economic barrier to economic growth – particularly in rural areas.

Carolyn Frank, who is also chairman of the Helmsley in Business group, said: “It was fantastic to be able to take these issues directly to Neil Parish MP, chair of EFRA, and at least 20 others. I really felt that rural areas like the North York Moors are high on the national agenda, and that the government representatives present understood how important the contribution of rural areas is to the national economy. I was pleased to have the support of our own MP, Kevin Hollinrake, who has a very pro-business stance. I will be sharing the report locally and hope that the recommendations are listened to, at a local level, as they were in Westminster.  The FSB do great work in getting the voice of small businesses heard at the highest level of policy making, and I am very proud to have been asked to take part in the meeting and to have contributed to the report. It is so important that we speak up to keep Helmsley and the North York Moors in the spotlight and make sure local voices are heard.”

Mike Cherry, National Chairman at the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB), said: “The Government is investing in transport – but the lion’s share goes to big flagship projects on the strategic road network. Most small businesses mainly rely on their local roads and public transport, so there is a strong case to prioritise investment in these smaller projects which will help to alleviate congestion and bottlenecks.

“The current devolution agenda in England presents a real opportunity to make a positive difference to rural communities. Small businesses want to see more resources earmarked for rural transport. This will help support rural small businesses as well as the UK tourism industry, which are both disproportionately affected when local bus networks and roads are left to deteriorate.”

The top three issues reported by businesses based in rural areas were: congestion on local roads, potholes and the cost of fuel. FSB would like to see these issues addressed directly in any new local devolution deals so that funds can be protected to better maintain roads and support small firms.

Keeping fuel costs low should also continue to be a priority with the Government maintaining its commitment to freeze the duty escalator through to the end of this Parliament.

The full FSB report can be found at: http://www.fsb.org.uk/docs/default-source/fsb-org-uk/fsb-rural-transport.pdf?sfvrsn=0