Rural support groups disappointed by government’s response to House of Lords’ recommendations on rural strategies

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One of the prime proposals is that the government should devise a comprehensive Rural Strategy to which all departments are committed and not just Defra.  More than nine million people live in rural areas and ACRE concludes that little political attention is paid to them. Whilst the government agrees with many of the concerns raised by the House of Lords’ report, such as the challenges presented by declining rural public transport provision and the lack of affordable housing provision, the government doesn’t, for example, accept that the delivery of broadband and mobile services has been poor in the past.

Dereham-based Community Action Norfolk (CAN) is one of thirty-eight county-based charities across England affiliated to ACRE and concerned with rural issues. Chief Executive Jon Clemo said: “We concur with ACRE’s view. Fifty-three per-cent of Norfolk’s population live in rural areas – more than 470,000 people – so the issues are of especial concern in our county. The government clearly agrees with the principles of many of the House of Lords’ recommendations but is not yet committed to formulating a strategy that supports them.

“Digital inclusion is still a major issue” added Mr Clemo. “The government claims that there will be nationwide future-proof reliable digital connectivity by 2033 – but in Norfolk in 2019 we still have areas of the county that don’t have access to an acceptable level of basic broadband. Communities in rural and urban areas of course face many similar challenges, from housing to healthcare, from education to employment – but rurality can increase the acuteness with which certain challenges are felt and the practical ways needed to address them.”

The House of Lords’ Report asserts ‘that nobody should be unreasonably disadvantaged by where they live’ – a commitment that CAN in Norfolk and ACRE nationally have pursued practically for many years, supporting community projects in meeting the needs of those most disadvantaged locally.

There are some positive proposals in the government’s response however, including frequent references to ‘rural proofing’ and it hoped that this will result in all Government Departments taking much more seriously their responsibility to ensure greater equity in how services are delivered to rural people.

Mr Clemo explains “Rural Proofing is a methodology for assessing the potential impact of a policy or service on rural communities.  It’s a way of achieving effective and successful outcomes for communities, businesses and individuals.  Here at CAN we devised a Rural Impact Assessment model, adopted by Norfolk County Council, which focuses on whether such changes might be disproportionately and significantly detrimental to people living in rural areas.”

Read more about Rural Impact Assessment here