Monday, 12 November 2012 17:30

Rural Statement lacks lustre, MPs told

Written by  Ruralcity Media
Rural Statement lacks lustre, MPs told

THE government should give a more robust commitment to rural communities, MPs have been told.

Three representatives with local authority backgrounds have so far given evidence to an inquiry by a House of Commons Environment, Food and Rural Affairs committee.

MPs sitting on the committee are investigating the challenges faced by rural communities and the government's response to those challenges.

They held their first evidence session on Wednesday, 7 November.

Helen Wright, rural policy and partnerships manager at East Riding of Yorkshire Council, told the committee that the local authority had its own rural strategy.

This strategy included an action plan, which made it more robust than the government's commitment to the countryside, as outlined in Defra's Rural Statement.

"Our rural strategy is evidence based; it goes on to identify the needs, challenges and opportunities. It looks at what constitutes a sustainable development," said Ms Wright.

"It includes desired outcomes and objectives. Perhaps most importantly, it has an action plan.

"That action plan is in its early stages, but it is actually the vehicle through which we will be able to do solid rural proofing and monitor progress."

"If you look at the Rural Statement, I have to say it lacks a bit of lustre, a bit of vitality. A lot of issues are covered in it, but it does not have that rigour."

Gillian Elliott, acting assistant director for economic development at Cumbria County Council, told the committee she wished to reiterate the same points.

She told MPs: "For us, it gives the commitment but not the implementation, the "hows". That is really important for us.

"The other thing that we felt was missing was the funding aspect, which said there is a commitment to rural areas, but then is there also the funding that backs up the fact that there is a rural premium."

The committee also heard from Keith House, chair of the Local Government Association's environment and housing board, Local Government Association.

Councillor House said: "So far as the statement is concerned and following on from there, it is a good start; we are very supportive.

"We would like [Defra] to commit to an annual review of performance with measurable targets that can be reported back on; otherwise we are not going to see progress.

"On the roles of the department and the committee, if Defra is going to be a champion for rural Britain, it has to be prepared to reach out across other departments."

On the subject of rural proofing, Ms Wright said the government's Rural Communities Policy Unit had little invilvement with her own local authority.

"This is a very key issue for the role of Defra and the Rural Communities Policy Unit. They say in their Rural Statement that a key issue for them is engaging with stakeholders.

"They do list a lot of stakeholders that they engage with. Those stakeholders are virtually all umbrella organisations, operating at a fairly strategic level.

"I feel really, really strongly that we would like greater direct involvement as a rural local authority with Defra and the Rural Communities Policy Unit.

"It is a very key message that I would like to get across."

A full transcript of the evidence is available here. Defra officials are expected to give evidence to the committee at a later date.

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