Notes of Rural England Stakeholder Group Meeting, London 2nd November 2015
Alison McLean (Chair and ex CRC); Graham Biggs (RE); David Inman (RE); Brian Wilson (RE); Andy Dean (RE); Jo Lavis (RE); Jane Hart (RE); Margaret Clark (ex CRC); Trevor Cherrett (TCPA); David Webb (FSB);Tamara Hooper (RICS); Richard Quallington (ACRE); Jonathan Clark (Big Lottery Fund);Janet Dwyer (CCRI/UoG); Erica Popplewell (CPRE); Holly Jago (Calor Gas Ltd); Anna Bradley-Dorman (NFWI).
Sheena Asthana, Sarah Lee, Jill Hopkinson, Mark Shucksmith, Neil Cleeveley, Michael Winter, Jerry Marshall, Amanda Brace, Richard Clarke, Justin Martin, Alice Woudhuysen, Charles Smith, Polly Gibb, Helen Aldis
The Chair opened the meeting at 1.05 p.m. and welcomed those present. This was followed by short introductions.
A1. Election of Chair
Alison McLean was elected Chair for 2016. Alison stated that this would be her last year as Chair.
Vice Chair- Although no appointment was made at the meeting, people prepared to stand will be canvassed and the matter considered at the February 2016 meeting.
A2. Last meeting
The notes of the last meeting were agreed as a correct record and the following updates were provided:
• David Inman informed the Group that he had contacted the South West Rural Farming and Food Group and was awaiting their response. It was agreed that, if they would be happy to, they would represent the Regional Farming and Food Networks
• The suggested strap line was agreed with the deletion of 'Facilitation of' :
RURAL ENGLAND COMMUNITY INTEREST COMPANY Independent Research, Networking, and Information Exchange to the common cause throughout Rural England
• The mission statement was agreed:
Our mission is to build the strength and resilience of rural England through helping to inform and engender better rural policy making.
We will do this through more informed debate, providing independent research and evidence, supporting informed information exchange and building a network that draws together all those involved in seeking to improve the social, economic and environmental well-being of rural areas throughout England.
• Jo Lavis provided a summary of the key issues contained in the Housing Bill on Right to Buy and other key rural housing issues. She agreed to circulate a 'key points' briefing note in Q and A format.
• Discussion about the Health situation was deferred until after the RSN Health Conference in the New Year
• Graham Biggs reported that there is little information available on devolution proposals or in the Rural Productivity Plan in that regard. Comment was made on the 'bespoke' nature of individual County devolution proposals.
A3. Directors and Stakeholders
David Inman stated that that the Young Farmers had agreed to join the group but that no response had yet been received from the rural Catholic Church.
He then reported on the position regarding supporters from the Water Industry and Energy Providers and advised that Power Distribution Companies and Power Generators will be the next groups approached. The group registered disappointment that two of the Energy 'Big 6', British Gas and SSE had declined to be involved.
In discussion it was suggested that a website with supporters logos would be a good promotional tool.
A4. Defra meeting
The Chair reported on a positive meeting with Defra's rural team (Justin Martin, Martin Gorringe, Stephen Hall and Rose Peake) on 20th October. The Defra rural team was enthusiastic about working together, sharing data and interested in networking. They also agreed to consider providing a letter of support. Discussions about rural proofing had, however, been less conclusive and would be revisited at a later date when the Government's response to the Lord Cameron Report conclusions has been debated.
A5. Rural England website update
David Inman expressed the hope that a Rural England website, providing Best Practice information and networking opportunities, would be available by 1st April 2016. It is likely that it will initially be accessed through the RSN website rather than stand-alone. The initial target audience would be stakeholder organizations and supporters/potential supporters.
A6. Memorandum of understanding with the Rural Coalition
Brian Wilson advised that this had been discussed with the Chair of the Rural Coalition and that it has been signed off subject to one minor change. It was suggest each group should cross reference to the document and that a copy be sent to Defra.
Graham Biggs provided a brief explanation and the current budget situation was noted.
A8. The UKRPPG
This group meets about once every year, with some virtual catch-up exchanges, to share and disseminate research happening across the UK. It would in future be one of the four Rural England meetings. Brian Wilson mentioned that future meetings would be in December each year and this year would be on 7th December. An agenda and confirmation of the London venue will be issued soon.
Chancellor / Rural Productivity Report.
Graham Biggs advised that there is little clarity in the report which was largely a number of re-announcements except the Starter Homes on Exception Sites issue discussed earlier in the meeting.
(a) Rural Vulnerability- older people
Jane Hart informed the group that two draft research papers on 'health and social care' and 'income and poverty' had been produced. These could be shared on the understanding that they will be subject to some further amendments and it is hoped that this work will be substantially complete before 7 December. A third short paper on crime, abuse and neglect has also been drafted but there has been found to be a disappointing paucity of research/information upon which to draw. The fourth paper on isolation and loneliness is under preparation.
It is intended to interview relevant people in two rural areas, ideally one inland rural and one coastal rural. Herefordshire was suggested as a possible interview location for the inland location.
(b) The State of Rural Services
Brian Wilson introduced this item and confirmed that it is intended to produce this report once every two years. He considered that there may be capacity to look at around 8 service areas. In discussion a number of suggestions were put forward including community assets; poverty; health (especially mental health); welfare services; Job Centres; and transport. Janet Dwyer suggested, if possible, covering a selection of statutory, economic and community topics.
It was agreed that Brian would draw up a rationale for and a draft shortlist of the services to be covered.
David Inman commented that wider more representative networking would be of benefit to both Rural England and RSN. At present RSN has an extensive network base but it is strongly reliant on Parish Councillors' input. Whilst a statistically valid rural panel is not realistically achievable in the short term it is a long term goal. Meanwhile a wider mix of participants and Sounding Boards would give greater weight to the evidence and opinion obtained. It was also proposed to seek to establish a Sounding Board for small rural businesses.
E. Priorities for additional work in 2016
The suggestions made from the Directors that these should be the development of a Library of Good Rural Practice (item 10 in Wall of Support Document) and Networking for Real (item 2) were supported in principle. The Group asked for a more detailed note scoping these at the February 2016 meeting
F. Rural Proofing
This item was deferred to the next meeting after the Government's response to the Lord Cameron Report has been formally published.
Date of next meeting:
UK Policy and Practitioners Group 7th December 2015, and next main meeting 22nd February 2016.
Dates for subsequent 2016 meetings were agreed as 6th June; 7th November; and next UKPPG on 5th December
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