but greater efforts needed
Whitehall policy makers took important steps to 'think rural' during the
potential and achieve real results, according to the Countryside Agency's
annual assessment report to government published today.
Some of the most promising progress has been made by government offices for
the regions and by some local authorities keen to adopt rural proofing
Publishing Rural Proofing in 2002/2003 - A report to Government,
Countryside Agency chairman Ewen Cameron said: 'Last year we were
critical of the slow start that government departments had made with 'rural
proofing' mainstream national policies and programme delivery. That tough
line has paid off. Rural proofing has progressed, albeit unevenly, but
greater efforts are needed in many departments to have a significant rural
'This does not mean they need to develop specific policies for rural areas
or rural people. It does mean ensuring that mainstream policies are
designed to meet the needs of those who live and work in the countryside.
With more and more policy making and policy delivery taking place
regionally, I am encouraged by the efforts made by regional government
offices this year.
'Credit is also due to the Treasury for ensuring that rural concerns were
properly reflected in the outcome of their comprehensive spending review
last July. Unfortunately departments did not go on to ensure that the
public service agreements emerging from that review were set in a way that
guaranteed rural delivery.
'Most central government policy targets were set, on issues like crime,
healthcare, housing, education and transport, through simple numerical
targets - which can be met all too easily by focusing policies on towns and
cities, with th eir larger populations. There is a real risk that scattered
rural communities could lose out on essential services, if those targets
are not revised or delivered more carefully.
'A further worry is that few Whitehall policy makers have available the
relevant data for the proper development of policies geared to rural
circumstances - and, more importantly, to allow them to monitor the impact
of their policies in the countryside. For example, on vital services, from
childcare to small business support, departments have no means of knowing
how effective they are in delivering to rural people.'
The report highlights successful examples of rural proofing at work,
- Local authority funding (ODPM) - the funding formula took account of
the core costs for small rural councils and the social exclusion unit has
started taking more account of rural disadvantage.
- Connexions (DfES) - the initiative that provides advice to teenagers
on careers and a range of other personal issues. The delivery of this
advice is being tailored to rural circumstances, with advisers visiting
young people in isolated communities and ICT facilities providing more
- Post offices (DTI) - a rural fund has been announced to help keep open
vital village post offices for the next few years.
Examples where more effort is needed include:
- Affordable housing (ODPM) - there has been a small increase in funding
for affordable homes in rural areas, but it still falls far short of what
is needed by those on lower incomes in rural communities. Planning
policies also need adapting to enable more sites to be found for affordable
- Broadband (DTI) - we know the DTI is considering the poor availability
of broadband in rural areas, but this now needs action to overcome the
digital divide. A target for rural roll out of broadband needs to be set
and the public sector investment to link up schools and GP surgeries needs
to be used to help bring broadband into rural communities.
- At the Home Office - where weak performance is now being addressed to
rural proof across its remit.
Rural Proofing in 2002/2003 - a report to government by the Countryside
Agency can be downloaded from the Countryside Agency websiteor obtained free (Ref CA146) from
Countryside Agency Publications, PO Box 125, Wetherby, West Yorkshire LS23
7EP Tel: 0870 120 6466.
-- Rural proofing is a commitment by the government to ensure that all its
domestic policies take account of rural circumstances and needs (Rural
White Paper, 2000). It is a mandatory part of the policy making process,
which means that, as policies are developed, policy makers should
* consider whether their policy is likely to have a different impact in
rural areas, because of particular rural circumstances or needs
* make a proper assessment of those impacts, if they are likely to be
* adjust the policy, where appropriate, with solutions to meet rural
needs and circumstances
Government departments and government offices for the regions are required
to report annually on how their policies have been rural proofed.