Rural Lens Review on DEFRA’s Third Rural Proofing Report for 2024

The Rural Services Network (RSN) has conducted a thorough review of the DEFRA Third Rural Proofing Report for 2024, titled "Delivering Rural Opportunity." Published in March 2024. As an advocate for rural communities, the RSN is committed to ensuring that the concerns and needs of these areas are accurately represented and addressed in governmental policies and reports. This document provides a critical analysis, comparing DEFRA's reported actions and commitments with the realities faced by rural communities. Our aim is to highlight areas where more attention is needed and suggest improvements that could make a significant difference in achieving genuine rural proofing.

In this review, we concentrate on the elements most relevant to our priorities, with a focus on how it aligns with our core policy areas, including Fair Funding, Rural Affordable Housing, Access to Rural Health and Care Services, Rural Economies, and Rural Transport. We also consider cross-cutting themes like Rural Net Zero, Rural Connectivity, and Rural Planning.

Overall “Delivering Rural opportunity – The Third Report on Rural Proofing” is an honest account of how rural proofing currently stands in Government. The section on “Understanding the Rural Context”, however, is completely silent on the unfair funding of essential public services in rural areas. Sadly, the omissions highlighted in this review shows that Government has a long way to go before it can claim to have delivered on rural proofing Government strategy and implementation. 

It is hoped that Government will use the comments made in this report to ensure Government strategy recognises the economic and social benefits of rural proofing.  Without such recognition rural England will be overlooked, by passed and pushed down further rather than levelled up. 

Rural proofing needs to be delivered across all Government Departments for meaningful change to take place, and not just sit as a reporting function within DEFRA.

You can read the full Rural Lens Review by clicking on the image below:

At a glance, the Rural Lens raises these key points:

  • There are numerous occasions where words to the effect of “across the UK, including many in rural areas”. Without information it is impossible to see if rural areas are getting a fair share. We conclude they are not, or the figures would have been stated.
  • The reference to the increase in Rural Services Delivery Grant completely misses the point about continued unfair funding for rural councils compared to their urban counterparts. The increase had absolutely nothing to do with a rural proofing exercise.
  • This does not read like an annual report on rural proofing -indeed it covers an 18-month period. It contains numerous examples of national initiatives with no indication of if and how they were rural proofed to ensure equity of approach/outcomes in rural areas.
  • We need to be clear what we mean by rural proofing. Nowhere within this third report is anything evidenced anywhere to show if these processes were followed.
  • An annual report on rural proofing should be an opportunity for all Government Departments to show where their policies and procedures have been rural proofed (and to what effect). Are we entitled to conclude that where this is not evidenced that there has been no rural proofing?


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