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 29/05/20 and the outcomes of this meeting can be seen below:
Defra updated members on the published government guidance released over the last week. Defra also updated members on their work with DCMS on ticketed attractions (people are now allowed to visit Kew and similar gardens), Test and Trace and tourism through DCMS working groups.
Members highlighted that there was an increase in visitor numbers over the bank holiday weekend with anecdotal reports of anti-social behaviour and a greater fear factor locally. Defra updated members on their communications work, including promoting the countryside code messaging across social media channels. Members stated that they were keen on the development of further physical signage to use with Defra branding to emphasise the key points in the countryside code.
The main focus of the meeting was on the preparations for the next stages of emergence from lockdown at the beginning of July. Members raised the following points:
- Community centres and village halls are lined up to open in July but many are multi-use buildings and potential subject to different pieces of guidance and indeed different regulatory provisions. It was also highlighted that there may be difficulty in determining who was responsible for cleaning between uses of village hall; was this the service providers or the hall committee?
- It was emphasised that it is important to get as much notice as possible before reopening and not to underestimate the amount of time this will require.
- Self-catering accommodation presents different risks compared to hotels and could be considered for reopening sooner. The importance of piloting schemes were also mentioned with the Visit England self-certification for self-catering accommodation given as a good example of this.
- Concerns were raised about woodland social enterprises and their ability to manage spaces going forward given their ineligibility for grant support or rate relief and possible cuts in staff.
It was requested that the regional tracking data removed from the daily 17:00 press conference be added to Defra’s statistics monitor as the regional dimension was useful from a rural perspective.
In terms of future meeting discussions on the following topics were raised:
- The changes to the furlough scheme and supporting rural businesses
- Track and Trace
- Rural transport issues including bus services
- Broader recovery and where we go from here
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