The Rural Impacts Stakeholder Forum (RISF) was established in March 2020 to enable open and regular dialogue between key rural stakeholder organisations and Defra on the impact of COVID-19 on rural communities and businesses.
Members of the Forum meet with Defra officials on a weekly basis, with Lord Gardiner, the Minister for Rural Affairs and Biosecurity in attendance when his diary permits, and are as follows:
Action with Communities in Rural England (ACRE)
Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE)
Countryside and Landowners Association (CLA)
National Farmers Union (NFU)
Rural Services Network (RSN)
To date, RISF members have raised the following topics with Defra:
Food supply chain issues – the issue of food supply to community shops - Defra listened to these concerns and through its food supply team followed up with wholesalers.
Charities support package including funding of farming charities – Defra provided an overview of the government’s support package for charities as well as connecting stakeholder to Defra’s weekly farming charity impact group. Defra is also working with DCMS to ensure that rural charities are taken into account in COVID19 response and funding.
Rural transport – DfT continues to work on the national bus strategy, and is exploring timings and approach post COVID-19. It is in close contact with Defra on rural services. Defra aims to discuss rural transport in a future RISF meeting and will invite a colleague from DfT to attend.
Garden centres – were discussed previously in a RISF meeting and have now been given permission to open again following the PM’s announcement on 10 May.
Spending review – It has been confirmed that the spending review has been delayed. Once timings are confirmed Defra will provide further information.
Rural tourism – The Government recognises that there are extremely difficult circumstances for tourism businesses. Defra will be working closely with DCMS on future government support for tourism businesses. Forum members shared their main issues in discussion with a representative from DCMS. There will be further discussions at future RISF meetings.
Post offices – Defra provided an update from Post Office ltd.
Access/Rights of Way – the issue of access to green spaces during COVID19 restrictions has been discussed with the Forum. Defra has issued guidance on access to the countryside and promoted the countryside code on gov.uk. It has engaged with stakeholders including landowners, user groups and local authorities.
Fair funding review - Government has announced it will no longer be implementing local government finance reforms in 2021-22 (both the Review of Relative Needs and Resources and 75% Business Rates Retention). The announcement was made alongside a decision about the allocation of COVID-19 funding for local authorities.
Business interruption insurance – Defra has discussed this with HMT. The Financial Conduct Authority has published a letter from its CEO that sets out information on where businesses should go. Insurance policies differ significantly, so businesses are encouraged to check the terms and conditions of their specific policy and contact their providers.