‘Lack of ru­ral voice harm­ing com­mu­ni­ties’

Yorkshire Post - - FRONT PAGE - BEN BAR­NETT AGRI­CUL­TURAL COR­RE­SPON­DENT ■ Email: ben.bar­nett@jpress.co.uk ■ Twit­ter: @benbthewriter

WHITE­HALL MUST ad­dress its lack of a strong voice to com­mu­ni­cate the chal­leng­ing re­al­ity of life in the coun­try and “ru­ral-proof ” pol­icy across gov­ern­ment de­part­ments, lead­ers say.

Ever since the Com­mis­sion for Ru­ral Com­mu­ni­ties was abol­ished four years ago, com­mu­ni­ties have lacked a cen­tral-funded body to raise the pro­file of ru­ral is­sues within gov­ern­ment, a House of Lords com­mit­tee heard.

Coun­try­side char­ity chiefs warned that their or­gan­i­sa­tions’ ex­per­tise was be­ing drawn upon too late to in­flu­ence the for­mu­la­tion of poli­cies that had gone on to neg­a­tively af­fect com­mu­ni­ties, cit­ing the right-to-buy scheme which does not ex­empt com­mu­nity-led ru­ral ex­cep­tion sites con­sist­ing of small hous­ing de­vel­op­ments and all schools pro­vid­ing meals to pupils, which is “im­prac­ti­cal” for many in a ru­ral set­ting.

The York­shire Post re­ported yes­ter­day how build­ing just a hand­ful of homes could help turn around some vil­lages that strug­gle to at­tract young fam­i­lies be­cause of aus­ter­ity-stripped ser­vices.

The Lords com­mit­tee was told that ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties had dis­pro­por­tion­ately suf­fered from lo­cal coun­cil bud­get cuts be­cause lev­els of pub­lic ser­vices were al­ready at a low base. Mar­garet Clark, chair­woman of the Ru­ral Coali­tion, said a ma­jor con­cern was a lack of co-or­di­nated re­search around ru­ral is­sues, and the In­dus­trial Strat­egy green pa­per was a missed op­por­tu­nity.

Ru­ing the frag­mented voice that cur­rently rep­re­sents the coun­try­side, Ms Clark said: “There’s no one body now that you can turn to as the lead... and I think that’s led, prob­a­bly, to the ru­ral voice be­ing di­min­ished and over­looked, and of­ten un­der­val­ued.

“The role of a ru­ral watch­dog has dis­ap­peared. There is no­body hold­ing, not just gov­ern­ment, but other bod­ies to ac­count.”

She called for ru­ral-proof­ing of gov­ern­ment pol­icy to be “more trans­par­ent, more real and across gov­ern­ment” and said it should hap­pen early on in pol­icy-mak­ing at all lev­els.

Jeremy Leggett, a trustee of Ac­tion with Com­mu­ni­ties in Ru­ral Eng­land (ACRE), said there had never been enough po­lit­i­cal will be­hind ru­ral-proof­ing.

“If you don’t do that early enough in the process of de­vel­op­ing pol­icy and then the mech­a­nisms for de­liv­er­ing pol­icy, you will al­ways be blind to the ru­ral di­men­sion,” he said.

Mr Leggett added that Lo­cal Enterprise Part­ner­ships seemed to be fo­cused on ur­ban out­comes be­cause they seek “ma­jor eco­nomic in­ter­ven­tions”.

The ACRE trustee called for “a com­pre­hen­sive across-gov­ern­ment pol­icy to­wards ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties, es­tab­lished and po­liced from within the heart of gov­ern­ment some­how but with the aim that no one is se­ri­ously dis­ad­van­taged by the ge­og­ra­phy of where they live”.

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