RSN Main Meeting - 9 July 2012

To download the agenda, click here

To download these minutes, click here

Sparse Rural Meeting    

The Chairman welcomed all to the meeting and introduced the agenda highlighting the importance of the rural broadband issue to be discussed.  Cumbria was suggested as an area which is ahead of the game on broadband.    
A    The Fairer Funding Campaign – the current position  (See Appendix 2)

Dan Bates provided an update on the Fairer Funding Campaign. The key message was that rural residents pay more for local services through council tax. Government funding mechanisms further add to the disparity between urban and rural areas, with urban getting some 50% more government grant per head than rural.  The Campaign had been acknowledged by government and a baseline sub-committee had been set up.  It had also been acknowledged that the density and sparsity formula was made on ministerial judgements rather than on an evidential basis.  Work with Northumberland CC on refuse collection demonstrated the rural penalty. The size of which was greater than Northumberland receive for sparsity in the funding formula.  Sparse had now put forward exemplifications to government on the redistribution of funding. Evidence shows that small percentage point reductions to urban areas provided significant gains to rural areas.  Dan Bates outlined the other issues which demonstrated a disparity between urban and rural areas, such as health and social care services funding, and the impact of the Localisation of Council Tax Benefits.  All of these issues were raised at the All Party Parliamentary Group on Rural Services.  

Graham Biggs added that Sparse is focussing on the issues around the baseline and damping.  More analysis might be needed to establish whether any changes would amount to more cash for local authorities or be lost through damping.  Members should expect a quick and rough initial analysis following release of the next DCLG Consultation (expected on or about 16th July).  He said members would need to continue to engage with their MPs as there was still much work to be done.

Dan Bates expected to send the draft consultation response to members at the end of August/early September. A consultation was also expected from the Department of Education on rural schools. In respect of the response to the Business Rate consultation, the key message was that the baseline needed to be adjusted from the start to provide a fairer balance between rural and urban.  There was a stronger response to that consultation from rural rather than urban authorities and that had proved influential. It needed to be repeated for the next consultation.  

The Chairman highlighted the disproportionate amount of people who retire to rural areas, which would impact on Council Tax discounts.  He took on board the need to talk directly with rural MPs and point them to the Chancellor and Prime Minister to convince them of the rural arguments. He assured members he had spoken to the Minister (Bob Neill) who understood our issues. The one page analysis for their constituency would be sent to all rural MP’s, which included the Prime Minister.

Members asked that the welfare reform act implications for rural areas be referred to in the response.  Graham Biggs also suggested a wider demonstration of the impacts of localising Council Tax support in rural areas as another example of where any gains would be eroded in rural areas disproportionately compared to urban.

Dan Bates said he would make the one page analysis profiles available on the website along with the more detailed versions.  Graham Biggs encouraged members to visit the website and use the wealth of information available.  

The Chairman congratulated the team on doing a great job, which members echoed.    
Action to be taken:
- Draft consultation responses to be sent to members with analyses for their Council.
- One page analysis for the all rural MPs constituencies to be sent.
- One page analysis profiles to be made available on the website.    
B    Performance
Dan Bates signposted members to the local authority performance pages on the website and encouraged the use of the analysis.  Fewer activities had been analysed in order to be able to provide more detailed analysis.  Focus has also shifted from strict local authority performance to a LEP focus for economic related data.    
C    A Unitary Group (See Appendix 1)         
The Chairman introduced the item, asking members to consider the formation of a rural unitary group within SPARSE Rural to add to the membership offer from Sparse. He stressed that this would not compete with CCN or DCN and that the group would report back to the Sparse meetings. He felt it was important to get a rural unitary voice heard by the LGA and DCLG and to include discussions on schools for example.

Members could appreciate the difference and endorsed the recognition of unique unitary issues so long as duplication with other work and organisations was avoided.  They saw value in creating a forum for rural unitary members to communicate. There were concerns about the uniqueness of unitaries and that members might be better off united.  Members also highlighted the importance of engaging with the town and parish council level which may have resources available and often provide informal support to schools for example.

The Chairman agreed with members that the group would be tested out on the condition that it did not compete with other organisations and that discussions would be reported back to and further discussed at Sparse meetings.    

Graham Biggs added that unitaries operate differently and that the group would be able to adjust the work of Sparse to be able to reflect this uniqueness.     
It was agreed to set up a Unitary Group as set out above.    

Full Rural Service Network Meeting    
It was agreed to take the agenda items in a revised order.    
1    Apologies for absence

Apologies were noted by Members.    
2    Minutes of the previous meeting (see Appendix A)
On paragraph 13 of the minutes, David Inman said that there was nothing yet to report back on. Graham Biggs added that it would be useful to have an LEP group and that the Cornwall LEP would be coming back to him with an idea to develop. Under paragraph 8, ‘non-vanguard areas’ were clarified as non-piloted areas.  On paragraph 14, David Inman updated members that the programme has been finalised and copies will be sent out.

- The Area Forum and Seminar programme to be sent to members.

- The minutes of the last full meeting on 19 March 2012 were agreed by Members.    
3    Minutes of the Executive Meeting (see Appendix B)
The minutes of the Executive Meeting on 11 June 2012 were agreed by Members.    
4    Rural Broadband
Kerry Nutley Director of Sales for new site construction and commercial investment in Open Reach Open Reach presented on rural broadband, updating members on the progress of their work programme to get broadband to the final areas of the UK and increase the speeds to as many locations as possible.  Kerry and Open Reach are passionate about stretching the economic models available and pushing network design and technological solutions.  She highlighted that broadband provision is required to demonstrate economic viability to Ofcom. She outlined some case studies which gave examples of how rural broadband can be delivered. Key to the agenda is that there is no one-size-fits-all approach and that Open Reach needs to work together and flexibly with communities to try and test solutions together.  Innovative ideas of delivery include community self-digs to lay network cable, gap funding models using local funds and network rearrangements.  She signposted the website for helpful tools and said that Open Reach are happy to look at all opportunities.  

Members discussed:
•    how communities could ensure they self-dig safely.
•    whether the targets are realistic.
•    concerns over disadvantaging rural business and addressing their immediate need for broadband.
•    a lack of information for communities to understand the cost implications.

Kerry said that local knowledge has been vital to this work. If communities can get access and permission from landowners, civil engineers can instruct on how to dig and some communities have hired contractors to do the work.  Kerry said that working towards the targets had not been easy and finding funding was the main challenge, however communities have successfully pulled together.  There are other solutions that can be explored such as radio and mobile solutions and deploying cable above the ground. Communities could also look at providing lower speeds.  Pricing information on private broadband provision is available on the website and there are products available to buy now. She hoped the state-aid issue would be resolved soon.  

Graham Biggs said that the broadband issue highlighted another rural cost penalty.

The Chairman added that some areas of Rutland will only have an improved speed of 2.0MB but that this is double what is currently received.  He said that as economic viability was the major consideration, support should be given in the first instance to the state aid approach.  He thanked Kerry for her passionate presentation.     
5    Budget
Graham Biggs apologised for the omission of a budget report from the meeting papers and reported that the budget was still on track.    
7    Potential Working Relationships

7(i) - Countryside Roundtable

Holly Sims from Calor was introduced and said that the Countryside Roundtable on Fuel Poverty had provided a good debate. There is potential for the organisations to continue to meet and to work together on practical issues.  A meeting with Richard Benyon MP has since taken place, at which he showed his support for the issue.  Letters will be sent to DECC and CLG and a wider meeting is sought post-recess to include journalists. She said that members’ support was valued.

The Chairman added that Rutland are working with Super force and that town and parish councils should also be engaged with.  Fuel poverty was flagged as highest in private rented accommodation.

Graham Biggs suggested linking the next Roundtable to the Rural Statement announcement.

One member highlighted some work from Scarborough on identifying fuel poverty in rural areas.  David Inman asked for further details of the work. He also suggested the members seek to designate a point of contact for fuel poverty at their authorities, as the issue crosses several departments and it can be difficult to know who to approach.  

Holly Sims had reports to circulate, which Graham Biggs offered to add to the website.

7(ii) – CCRI
Graham Biggs informed members that the RSN had been invited by CCRI to partner a bid to Defra for the monitoring and evaluation of rural growth networks.  The bid was unsuccessful but received powerful feedback and demonstrated the value of the extensive network.  Further discussions are planned on how the two organisations might work together in the future.

7(iii) – The National Trust
David Inman expressed interest from RSN to work more closely with the National Trust and said he would report back to members when appropriate.    
11    Updating of the website
The Chairman introduced Johann Tasker who gave an overview of how the website would be revised over the summer. Access has been made easier and it is more user friendly; in particular the requirement to enter a username and password has been removed. More prominence is given to RSN work, including via the newsletter.  Duplicate website areas have been reduced. Areas of expertise and best practice are signposted. The monitoring of the number of visits continues.

- The Chairman said he enjoyed the newsletter and encouraged members to spread the word of this valuable resource.    
14    Wind Farms
Members discussed:
•    the significant time spent by local authorities dealing with wind farms.
•    the viability of wind farms.
•    the need for clearer definitions of landscapes in order to define where sites are acceptable.
•    concern over protecting AONBs and other areas.
•    an erosion of democratic accountability, where planning applications are approved despite opposition from local residents.
•    the need for a balance of the number of sites as well as associated pylons and protecting the natural beauty of an area.      
12    Communications Strategy (See Appendix D)
David Inman said that RSN is looking to increase its profile and number of press releases to at least one a month and include these on the website.  Fortnightly bulletins will also bring together the RSN work.

The Chairman said a lot of learning had been taken from the Fairer Funding Campaign, which hit local and national papers and radio.

Graham Biggs added that it is important to be able to quickly respond to the media and then follow up in more detail if necessary. Johann Tasker was asked to take the lead on responding to the media.  

Members questioned the officer capacity to do this. The Chairman said that the team can work well on this but that expert members and authorities would be contacted if necessary.    
15    Area Forums and Seminars
David Inman outlined the new system of area forums, which over the last year ran in all regions except the south.  The next cycle will see events in all regions from September 2012 to June 2013. The programme will be circulated to members.   
- As per para. 3, the programme is to be circulated to members.    
6    Rural Services Partnership Development (see Appendix C)
Graham Biggs outlined the need to engage RSP services by forming specific service groups and re-launching the membership offer to authorities.  There is a need to grow the RSP, for example by providing mechanisms to bring housing providers, Registered Social Landlords (RSLs), local authorities and planners together.

Members discussed concerns over S.106 and Graham Biggs said that this would fit under such a forum.  

The Chairman asked members to email their S.106 concerns so these can be raised with the LGA team to take to Grant Shapps MP. Members were asked to email Graham Biggs on this matter.

Members questioned whether RSN would be geared up to engage with the Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs) on rural issues.  Graham Biggs said that it was and understood that the LGA is forming a group for this area.  The Chairman added that the Police and Crime Panels supporting PCCs will be a useful mechanism to engage with.

One member highlighted that the police use of Out of Court Disposals are inconsistent across the country and called for PCCs and the LGA Safer and Stronger Communities Board to work to ensure Out of Court Disposals are consistently recorded to bring more clarity and accountability to the use of these procedures.    
8    The Rural Health Conference – 26th November, Nottingham
David Inman gave an update on the Rural Health Conference, saying that it is an important event and he urging members to register to attend.    
9    RCPU’s Rural Paper
The promised Ministerial statement was still not out.    
10    The Parliamentary Rural Fair Share Group
Discussions were to be held with Graham Stuart MP as to how to take this forward.    
13    LEPs, Rural Growth Networks
Graham Biggs said that RSN continues to hold watching briefs over LEPs, Rural Growth Networks and Food and Farming Networks.  Dan Bates said that comparisons analysis can be drawn up on local authorities and LEPs and he asked members to contact him with any issues in these areas.    
16    Items from the Long Grass
The Chairman suggested that a future meeting discusses the issues of pub closures for communities and the tourism industry.  

Graham Biggs signposted the LGA Rural Commission and Conference in Windermere on 11 and 12 September. Members urged greater cooperation between the Rural Commission and RSN.

The Chairman thanked all for attending. David Inman informed members that the next meeting would be held on Monday 19 November.


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