Rural England Meeting - 16th February 2015

Notes of Rural England Stakeholder Group Meeting, London 16th February 2015



Alison McLean (ex CRC) (Chair); David Inman (Rural England CIC (RE)); Graham Biggs (RE); Brian Wilson (RE); Andy Dean (RE); Jane Hart (RE); Janice Banks(ACRE); Janet Dwyer (CCRI); Prof Mark Shucksmith (Newcastle University); Barney Mynote (NAVCA); Rachel Barber (NfWI); Christoper Price (CLA); Trevor Cherrett (TCPA); Charles Smith (FCN); David Webb (FSB); Sarah Lee (Countryside Alliance); Ken Browse (NALC); Helen Aldis (Prince’s Countryside Fund); Richard Clarke(National Association for AONBs); Justin Griggs (NALC); Alice Woudhuysen (Age UK)


Margaret Clarke; Prof Sheena Asthana; Howard Petch (resigned); Rachel Barber; Prof Michael Winter and Jerry Marshall (Arc) Brian Williams. Will Banks; (FSB) Mary Roberts; Holly Sims. David Clarke, British Youth Council, Amanda Brace (National Parks) Kate Lyons (UK Youth) Jeremy Blackburn (FICS) Neil Cleevely (Navca), LGIU,

The Chair opened the meeting at 1.00 p.m. and welcomed new group members. This was followed by short (name and organisation) introductions from those present.
Howard Petch would be thanked for his previous work and support.

1. Last meeting

The notes of the last meeting were agreed as a correct record. However it was suggested by the Chair that discussions about the devolution agenda and the city region debate would be better deferred to the next meeting. This was agreed.

2. Preliminary discussion
The Chair invited the group to assist in teasing-out priorities and emphasised the importance of not duplicating information and research that is already available from other sources.
David Inman referred to the Rural England (Wall of Support) document explaining that the circulated version was for discussion and certainly not a final position. It would now be for the wider group to identify priorities. He also explained that some 40 organisations had been invited to be represented on the Stakeholder Group and that, encouragingly, only a very few had declined (CPRE, Forestry Commission, Open University, Tenant Farmers Association). Some 5 were still to be heard from. It was suggested and agreed that a representative from Young Farmers should also be invited.
It was noted that the broadcaster John Craven had agreed to commend Rural England CIC.
The role of the group and it’s correct title of “stakeholder group” (not steering) was clarified by Graham Biggs
There was debate about how best to interface with Defra and the Farming and Rural Affairs Networks about Rural England’s work. Reference was made to the chairs of these Networks having regular meetings with Defra Ministers and it was suggested that contact be made with one of their regional chairs- Christine Hope in Herefordshire or David Fursden in the SW being suggested as a potentially helpful contacts.

3. Discussion with The Prince’s Countryside Fund, Big Lottery and CCRI

David Inman informed the group that there had been positive discussions with all three organisations and that the partnership opportunities were not necessarily financial. He emphasised the importance of Rural England developing a profile quite separate from RSN which has a representational role.
Exeter University and the University of Gloucestershire had indicated their willingness to commend Rural England and he hoped for a similar response from the University of Newcastle. It was recognised that the precise wording would need to be agreed.
Janet Dwyer and Mark Shucksmith then outlined the main areas of research at CCRI and at Newcastle Centre for Rural Economy.

4. The priority projects

These were summarised by the chair as falling within the categories of networking, learning and research. David Inman explained that the overall package would necessitate funding of approximately £125,000 p.a. but that it was intended to progress tranche by tranche over 5 years and incrementally build. The priority projects would obviously come first- funding permitting. The approach would be to ask for £500 from a variety of private sector companies and to expand the range of work incrementally.
At the previous meeting the group had identified two immediate priorities:
1. A biennial State of Rural Services Report
2. A topic paper on the subject of “Rural Vulnerability as Affecting Older People”
There was also an aspiration to develop a small businesses sounding board.
The first tranche of approach to seek to fund these would be to rural infrastructure providers (Water, Power, Phone) Support from some 50 companies would be needed to take these forward.

Discussion about the proposed State of Rural Services Report included
- Comparison with the previous CRC “State of the Countryside” reports which had provided valued and trusted information. The importance of population and economic trend data was specifically mentioned.
- Scoping of services to be included and issues around definitions of Public Services/ Services of General Interest
- Availability of data and possible alternative sources.
It was concluded that a mapping exercise should be undertaken to identify gaps in data.
The subject of the topic paper was discussed and agreed. Janice Banks described a ‘perfect storm’ of demographic and service change factors affecting the elderly in rural England and emphasised the need to research implications for the future. Mentions were also made of ageing and farming, risks of loneliness, and social isolation. A survey being sent to the RSN sounding board is expected to supply some data and opinions which will assist this project. It was agreed that the next step would be for Brain Wilson and Jane Hart to more clearly define the scope of this topic paper
In discussions about a possible small business sounding board it became apparent that there is already quite a body of information available (e.g. Smiths Gore and CLA Rural Economy Index and North East Business Survey). It was concluded that it would be good to proceed on the sounding board by establishing what might be already available and to identifying remaining gaps.
With regard to networking more generally the view was expressed that there was a need to include all the voices that are already there to increase influence with National Government. Farming and Rural Affairs Networks were particularly referred to)
It was agreed that David Inman would co-ordinate an email exchange to identify existing networks and outputs and that the matter would be brought back to the next meeting..

5. Other work

Janet Dwyer informed the group of the CCRIs winter school which had potential to grow into a postgraduate event. This would be discussed further in March.
Other subjects of discussion included:
-Potential of social media
- RSN calls for evidence
It was also agreed that two short updates of progress on projects and fundraising would be sought to be circulated by e mail every 2 months.

6. Finance

David Inman outlined his intention to approach infrastructure providers such as Water Companies and other with an interest in rural for small donations of £500, aiming to achieve 50 such donations by the end of December 2015. He specifically acknowledged the important support and advice already received from Calor.
Graham Biggs advised that some income and expenditure would be transferred from RSN .He also clarified that larger scale investors will also be sought.

7. Briefing Note on Rural Proofing

Some disappointment was expressed that Lord Cameron’s report was not more challenging and that its recommendations were so ‘light touch’. There was general agreement that rural proofing needs to be more systematic and thorough and that the lack of external scrutiny is unhelpful. Brian Wilson will raise the matter at the next meeting of the Rural Coalition with a view to making a joint approach to Defra.

8. Website

There was a need to develop a separate and distinctive web area. This would be done under the RSN site initially but would in the fullness of time maybe become a separate website The work to do this would be undertaken by RSN but with a recharge when the RE Group was in sufficient funds to be able to come with it. (this is assessed at £2.2k per year)

9. Future Meetings

Meeting dates will be the 8th June 2015 (hosted hopefully by CLA) and the 2nd of November 2015 (venue to be announced).

The meeting finished at 3.00 p.m.


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