Issues raised at the latest meeting of the Rural Impacts Stakeholder Forum (RISF)

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:

  • Action with Communities in Rural England (ACRE)
  • Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE)
  • Countryside and Landowners Association (CLA)
  • National Farmers Union (NFU)
  • Plunkett Foundation
  • Rural Coalition
  • Rural Services Network (RSN)

The group meet on the 22/05/20 and the outcomes of this meeting can be seen below:

The meeting focused on planning for a phased return in education and early years provision at the beginning of June, and issues arising from the reopening of non-essential retail outlets.

Education and Early Years Provision

Members were briefed by a DfE representative on their current relevant thinking, including:

  • Staffing sufficiency in rural locations.
  • Challenges in the provision of PPE.
  • Identifying the most vulnerable schools (infant schools with limited space).
  • Safety and risk assessment as the prime factor.
  • Further guidance to follow (key areas including cleaning and site preparation).

Members raised the following points;

  • Incompatibility of the term ‘settings’ when discussing rural education (often rural educational locations are multi use (village / community halls) raising accountability issues)
  • Requirement for consistent guidance relative to village halls to avoid accountability issues.
  • Ability for rural communities to access next nearest school is restricted by distance.
  • The impact of transition guidance in relation to three tier schools.

DfE addressed the members points agreeing to update colleagues working on guidance on the accountability point.

Opening Non-Essential Retail Outlets

The following points were discussed:

  • In rural areas many non-essential retail businesses were small independent sole traders typically operating from small premises. They would need detailed guidance to support safe reopening
  • Organisations which supported rural businesses would also need training and guidance on how to support them through reopening
  • The NFU was preparing a report around reopening the rural economy
  • Guidance on reopening would need to clarify whether risk assessments were needed before reopening and how that might need to link with traders’ public liability insurance
  • The ‘fear factor’ was very real in rural areas and would need to be overcome for the rural economy to start to recover. This could be addressed eg by a formal risk assessment in order to create confidence that reopening was safe.
Forward look

The meeting on 29 May will focus on the preparations for step 3 of the emergence from lockdown at the beginning of July.


Sign up to our newsletter to receive all the latest news and updates.