Challenges of rural entrepreneurship | Letters

‘The tools and technology are there to enable workers to remain efficient and productive while working remotely,’ writes Jason Downes. Photograph: PeopleImages/Getty Images

After nearly three decades of working in the mining industry and financial sector, I traded my stiletto heels for wellies and went sheep farming. It immediately became apparent that the traditional business model of farming was unsustainable; the reliance on EU subsidies, the volatile and seasonal price of lamb subject to the big supermarkets importing cheap meat, and a wool price that barely covered the cost of shearing. So I applied my City of London background to diversifying my business. From my farm, I now ship locally and internationally a range of luxury wool bedding made from the fleeces of much of the UK’s Southdown pedigreed flock. I also offer disabled-accessible self-catering accommodation for a working farm experience.

The problem with this business model is its dependency on three sectors, whose services I am finding totally inadequate and antiquated, to the point where my entrepreneurial initiative is being undermined.

First, the telecommunications sector seems incapable/unwilling to deliver reliable high-speed broadband to rural communities. The service is so erratic that I have difficulty maintaining a full e-commerce site; something that is pretty much fundamental to my success. I even have difficulty submitting my quarterly VAT returns online, something HMRC will be expecting all companies to do in the near future.

Secondly, the legal sector has, by its own admission, failed to keep up with developments associated with the internet. This state of affairs affords me no conclusive advice when it comes to trademark and copyright issues as it applies to Google advertising, Facebook and Twitter or anything that might be related to cyberattacks and hacking of websites.

Thirdly, my insurers have failed to recognise the vulnerability I have with respect to trademark and copyright issues. Their cover focuses on traditional labour and contractual issues which are indeed still important, but the evolution of the cover for which I am paying a hefty monthly premium again has not kept pace with the way I am now doing business. 

Brexit will bring great uncertainty as to whether or not the government will, after 2022, continue to support the agricultural sector in the absence of EU subsidies. Farmers who do not recognise this and fail to diversify will be in peril. But more importantly, the service industries on which the agricultural sector depends to succeed in this transformation, need to get their act together and modernise their range and quality of the services they provide. I am tired of listening to lame excuses. The readers of your newspaper may need an insurance assessor, a solicitor and a telephone engineer perhaps once a year, but rest assured, they need a farmer three times a day.
Dr Jessica Cross
Southdown Duvets

• The rail and tube strikes this week are once again upsetting the country’s business productivity, with thousands of commuters affected (Report, 30 September). Employers across the UK should be seizing the opportunity to fully embrace smarter ways of working. The tools and technology are there to enable workers to remain efficient and productive while working remotely, be it from home or an alternative work space. Employers are likely to find that trying out a flexible working system this week proves popular and effective for the long term. Three-quarters (77%) of workers claim a job offer would be made more attractive with flexible working, and more than half (55%) believe the ability to work flexibly is crucial when searching for their next job. Smarter working encourages smarter thinking. It allows people to balance their life outside of work and work more effectively. It’s been years since the government introduced the right for any employee to request flexible working, but still nearly half of employers (48%) are not actively encouraging it. I would like to see more businesses embracing a smarter working culture in times like these
Jason Downes
MD, Powwownow and founder, Smarter Working Initiative

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