Notes of Rural England Stakeholder Group Meeting, London 8th June 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); Christopher Price (CLA); Alice Woudhuysen (Age UK); Trevor Cherrett (TCPA); David Webb (FSB);Tamara Hooper (RICS); Sarah Lee (Countryside Alliance); Jonathan Owen (NALC); Deborah Clarke (ACRE); Richard Clarke (National Association of AONBs); Helen Aldis (Prince's Countryside Fund); Neil Cleeveley (NAVCA); Erica Popplewell (CPRE); David Webb (FSB); Sheena Asthana (University of Plymouth and ex CRC).
Janet Dwyer (CCRI); Jerry Marshall (Arthur Rank)
The Chair opened the meeting at 1.05 p.m., welcomed those present and thanked Christopher Price for the use of the CLA meeting room. This was followed by short introductions.
1. Last meeting
The notes of the last meeting were agreed as a correct record.
2. Directors and Stakeholders
David Inman introduced Jo Lavis, a new Director of Rural England, who has considerable expertise in rural housing. He also commented that he had received some positive responses to his approaches to potential supporters.
There was discussion about potential additional members of the stakeholder group and Rural England's relationships with other groups and organisations and David Inman undertook to invite a representative of the National Federation of Young Farmers to join the group. David Inman also agreed to make enquiries of the Catholic Church Rural Clergy Group.
3. Comparison of the network with other networks
Following discussion about building understanding with other networks and organisations concerned with rural it was agreed that:
• Discussions be held with the Rural Coalition about a possible memorandum of understanding with them.
• Efforts be made to build understanding and relationships with other networks including Food and Farming and ACRE
• That a letter be written to the Secretary of State at Defra and the Rural Affairs Minister to make them aware of Rural England and to outline its planned activity
It was also agreed that a written description of Rural England's role and activity in the form of a mission statement and links be presented to the next meeting for agreement. This should help explain the difference from other rural networks.
4. Opportunities and Issues for Rural
Brian Wilson introduced this item and highlighted certain issues in the Conservative manifesto including the extension of Right-to-Buy to Housing Association property, devolution and broadband (universal service obligation missing). He also noted a number of Bills outlined in the Queen's speech including Cities and Devolution, Housing, Energy, and Health.
A number of concerns were expressed about the proposed right to buy Housing Association properties in terms of current and future supply and the vital importance if retaining perpetuity arrangements, but it was hoped that the government might be sympathetic to a rural exemption perhaps on the basis of exempting settlements below 3000 population. Jo Lavis commented on a survey she was doing with Rural Housing Alliance members and a sample of local authorities to assess the potential impact of the extension of the Right to Buy. It was agreed that the immediate priority was to try to co-ordinate messages in order to secure exemptions and Jo agreed to keep the group updated.
There was also concern about the proposals for Health including:
• The possibility of 7 day access leading to larger centralised GP surgeries which would be less accessible for many people
• The adequacy, or otherwise, of rural proofing
It was decided that the group would try to identify and highlight some rural issues by using individual member's expertise and experience to identify where unintended consequences might result from the proposed legislation. This item to be on the agenda for the next meeting. (Please send any comments to Jane Hart email: email@example.com). It was also suggested that the letter to the Defra Minister (see item 3) should also enquire whether there might be a role for this group to assist with rural proofing.
5. Devolution/City Region debate
Brian Wilson introduced this item highlighting the concern about the extent to which the proposals are city-centric. In debate it was suggested that there might be some potential benefits, such as better co-ordination of public transport, but others felt there could be bad outcomes for rural particularly if the focus was just cost-cutting. Concern was also expressed that the debate was being led by urban organisations and that there is an urgent need for a debate on the implications for rural. It was noted that this topic features on the agenda for the RSN Rural Conference to be held on 8th and 9th September in Cheltenham.
Rural stakeholders are asked to send any reports or relevant material on the subject to Graham Biggs email: firstname.lastname@example.org
6. Current projects
(a) Jane Hart introduced the research on rural vulnerability affecting older people. Subsequent discussion included suggestions about work on fuel poverty, loneliness, income related approaches to accessing social care and the problems of delivering services such as meals to isolated individuals. Hastoe Housing Association and Plymouth University offered assistance with sharing research findings and possible contacts. It was noted that there is a need to keep the scope of this research realistically bounded and for publication and dissemination channels to be carefully considered. It was agreed that Sheena Asthana, Jo Lavis and Alice Woudhuysen would work with Jane and Brian to agree and sign off a work plan.
(b) Brian Wilson introduced this item asking for comments about the shape and scope of this work and agreed to provide a more detailed proposal in November. A number of observations were offered including:
• The need to avoid competing with the Defra Statistical Digest of Rural England
• It could bring together existing statistics and research, with rural intelligence and perhaps surveys
• Commentary on the data, issues and indicators would be valuable
• Economic aspects around farming could be included for context
• Community strength and capacity is an important area, again for context – Qualitative information provided by ACRE to RCPU was specifically mentioned.
7. Small business sounding board
Andy Dean confirmed that discussions are taking place with a potential sponsor and suggested that Chamber of Trade contacts might be a useful dissemination channel . Efforts were also being made to establish other links.
8. Fund Raising for the Group's operation
David Inman advised that the support of 50 organisations will be needed if the full range of priority projects is to be delivered and this would take time. The State of Rural Services is a key product.
David Inman briefly commented on the complexities of arranging meetings of the UK Rural Policy and Practitioners Group and suggested that it could be helpful if their convenors were invited to present selected aspects of their work to this group during part of one of the three Rural England meetings. This was agreed.
9. Funding of Group
Graham Biggs introduced this item and the 2015/16 budget report was noted and agreed.
Following discussion about the best approach it was agreed that a modest website or holding page with access to relevant links to reports would be the best way to start.
11. Future developments
Deferred for discussion at future meeting.
The Chair closed the meeting at 3.15 p.m. and asked that the team email updates at least once between meetings. A contacts list of stakeholders' emails will be circulated shortly.
Date of next meeting: Monday 2nd November 2015
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