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