More and more of us are moving from city to countryside. According to the latest Government figures, predominantly rural areas in England are experiencing net internal inward migration of more than 60,000 a year. It's a social trend that makes Britain almost unique among developed economies, which see mostly rural to urban migration. This Government is determined to support the millions that already choose a rural life and those that are joining them.
That's what our rural productivity plan is all about. For rural areas, we want better internet and mobile phone communications, better transport, better schools, better skills, better housing, better business growth and better local government.
The flight from city to country is driven by all sorts of factors: a desire for more space for children to grow and play or an "escape to the country" in retirement, for example. But there is another reason people are basing themselves in our beautiful regions and enjoying the high quality of life they offer - one that we believe is critical. Improvements in information technology mean a broader than ever choice of career for those living there. Simply, our rural areas are becoming ever more economically diverse and dynamic.
Long gone are the days when those in a village had to choose between a job in the pub, the shop or on the farm, or commute into a town or city. Manufacturing is more important in country than city. And thanks to the internet, more skilled professionals are able to make a living in the most far-flung locations in Britain. More people are working in business services, information and communication sectors in rural areas - and home-working is also growing fastest in the countryside.
There are now more than half a million businesses registered in England's rural areas, representing over 23 per cent of the total. So the economic importance of the rural economy - worth £210 billion a year - cannot be overstated.
Labour has never understood the millions of people who live in the countryside, or even pretended to be interested in them. Worse, in power Labour allowed Britain's economy to become reliant on just one square mile in one city, which meant that when the banking sector crashed, our entire economy did too.
For the Conservatives, the party of rural Britain, our determination to build one nation means investing in all parts of the country, building a vibrant economy that promotes growth across the land, in every town and city and every rural area too.
In the last Parliament we began the process of empowering our rural communities. In 2010 the provision of superfast broadband was in its infancy, 4G mobile services were not available and rural communities were seeing the decline of basic amenities. So in 2010 we established a £1.7 billion investment programme in superfast broadband, to fill rural gaps that the market would not. Delivery is on track to give 95 per cent coverage by 2017, with 3 million premises covered so far. After we enabled the auction of 4G spectrum in 2013, industry has rolled out 4G coverage to nearly 90 per cent of the UK.
At a time of spending restraint, we also invested in our roads, railways and regional airports. We launched a £20 million fund that has helped secure around 3,400 Post Office branches where they were the only shop in a community. And building on the reputation of our world-leading food producers, we established a network of enterprise zones to kick-start local food and drink economies.
But there is still much to do. As well as improving quality of life, there is scope to improve productivity in rural areas. If the average annual growth rate of the rural economy increased by just 0.1 percentage points, this would add around an extra £7 billion to the rural economy by 2030. So we will invest £100 billion in world-class infrastructure that will not only connect rural businesses to towns and cities in the UK, but to those around the world too. We want further devolution of power, with county deals such as the one we struck with Cornwall last month.
And we'll look at planning and regulatory constraints facing rural businesses. In a recent survey of rural businesses the main barrier to growth that most identified was planning restrictions. So for a start, we'll review rules around agricultural buildings such as barns to allow rural businesses to expand more easily.
For the first time we'll encourage rural areas to apply to become enterprise zones, and will work on how best to get superfast broadband to those that are successful. To expand the skilled workforce in the countryside, we are committing to triple the number of food and farming apprenticeships. And our new national living wage, worth over £9 an hour by 2020, will mean pay rises of up to £5,000 a year in cash terms for those aged over 25 in low-wage rural jobs.
Those living or moving to the countryside also want to know their children will get the best education. We have committed to ensure fairer funding for all schools, including those in rural areas. The government will turn inadequate schools into academies and improve their leadership, as well as targeting coasting schools.
And if we are going to attract and maintain a dynamic workforce, we need to make it easier for people to stay in their rural communities and for newcomers to settle there too. We'll always want to protect our green belt and beautiful natural environments, but the lack of housing in rural areas is a scandal. Those living in villages want to see them thrive, want to maintain enough housing for their children to live in and want the local shop, school and village services to flourish. So we will reform planning laws, making it easier for villages to establish their own neighbourhood plan and allocate land for a small number of new homes.
Rural Britain is not only a distinct part of our national character, but an increasingly dynamic part of our economy. The bold plans we are setting out today can realise the potential of rural communities and their residents. Getting this right means people have greater choices about where they live and the jobs they do, businesses no longer have to be tied to our towns and cities and rural communities can flourish, to the benefit of us all.