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RURAL THINKING IN WHITEHALL? - RURAL PROOFING REPORT PUBLISHED

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Countryside Agency's annual Rural Proofing-- report shows marked improvement ...
Countryside Agency's annual Rural Proofing-- report shows marked improvement

but greater efforts needed

Whitehall policy makers took important steps to 'think rural' during the

last year but greater efforts are needed if rural proofing-- is to reach its

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

principles voluntarily.

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

impact.

'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,

including:

- 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

information.

- 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

homes;

- 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.

NOTES

-- 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

systematically:

* 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

significant

* 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.

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