Think tank to probe rural challenges

RURAL communities are set to benefit from a new body that will examine the challenges of living in the countryside.

The Rural England think-tank has been established as an independent body by the Rural Services Network, which represents more than 100 local authorities and over 100 other rural organisations.

With its own independent steering group [2], Rural England will examine innovative ways of overcoming the challenges faced by rural businesses and communities.

Rural Services Network Chief Executive Graham Biggs MBE said research would be undertaken across rural England in a way that was relevant, focused and cross-organisational.

Mr Biggs said: "There is a widely held view that organisational changes and financial pressures are having a negative impact on the scope for rural research and policy analysis.

"The Rural Services Network has begun work to address this gap by developing a 'Rural England' service, which has its own independent steering group."

Mr Biggs said the network respected government work being undertaken within DEFRA by its Rural Communities Policy Unit (RCPU), where some tangible benefits were evident.

But following the abolition of the Commission for Rural Communities, there was also a place for complementary rural work carried out independent of government, added Mr Biggs.

"We approached a number of people involved with the Commission for Rural Communities and asked whether they would give their time to establish a rural research service out of the ashes.

"We are pleased that eight of them agreed to do so.

"Having seven former commissioners and a former director involved alongside recognised rural bodies will form a work base that can grow into a strong grouping."

The establishment of the group represented a real statement about the importance of rural issues and the preparedness of rural organisations to work together, said Mr Biggs.

Steering group members include the following former commissioners from the Commission for Rural Communities (CRC):

* Alison Mclean - former Commissioner (CR, CRC,2002-2009)
* Howard Petch - former Commissioner (2008-2013)
* Margaret Clark - former Director at the Commission (Director RDC, CR & CRC 1995-2007)
* Professor Mark Shucksmith (University of Newcastle) - former Commissioner (CR, CRC, 2005-13)
* Professor Michael Winter (University of Exeter) - former Commissioner (2006-2013)
* Rachel Purchase - former Commissioner (2010-2013)
* Professor Sheena Asthana (University of Plymouth) - former Commissioner (CR,CRC, 2005-13)
* Sue Prince - former Commissioner (2010-2013)

It is also hoped the steering group will additionally have a further six representatives from national organisations who have specific rural interests.


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