The Rural Impacts Stakeholder Forum (RISF) was established in March 2020 to enable open and regular dialogue between key rural stakeholder organisations and Defra on the impact of COVID-19 on rural communities and businesses.
Members of the Forum meet with Defra officials on a weekly basis, with Lord Gardiner, the Minister for Rural Affairs and Biosecurity in attendance when his diary permits, and are as follows:
The group meet on the 12/06/20 and the outcomes of this meeting can be seen below:
Defra updated members on upcoming guidance on multi-use community centres, volunteering and cross Whitehall activity including a large stakeholder roundtable on tourism planned for next week.
Defra updated members on its communications work and recently shared package to comms leads containing social media videos and a countryside code poster. Wildfires, BBQs and littering were mentioned as major problems. Defra highlighted that it was pulling together a funding bid with MHCLG to understand the type of people accessing the countryside. Defra mentioned ongoing conversations with MHCLG and local authorities which included discussions on comms and messaging to reach all types of visitors to the countryside.
The meeting focused on rural recovery. Members raised the following points:
- All present said it was important to focus on community issues as well as economic ones.
- The need to look at bottom up approach, not just top down, and the role of community ownership was highlighted.
- It was thought the over-reliance of rural industries on tourism needed to be challenged.
- It was suggested that as a result of COVID-19 more people were using local food sources and stressed the importance of supply chains throughout the recovery process.
- The need for changes to the planning system to enable a smooth transition to the future of the rural economy was highlighted.
- More emphasis should be given to the need to respond to climate change as part of recovery. The development of green jobs and green infrastructure rather than a return to BAU would lead to a better, more inclusive approach.
- There was higher car ownerships in rural areas which meant there was less reliance on public transport. Reducing car use could be an opportunity when lines to climate change and improved air quality.
- Although smaller businesses might be more adaptable they had smaller reserves and those dependent on seasonal income will be badly affected. Government support needed to be retained where businesses could not open due to social distancing regulations.
- Concern about the public health formula being used for funding under the ‘test and trace service’ as this was biased towards urban areas.
- It was argued that there should be a rural recovery plan and not just a national recovery plan which includes rural.
- It was noted that number of member organisations had developed manifestos for recovery and these should be factored into the approach.
It was suggested to include the role of local industrial strategies in recovery.
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