Friday, 09 November 2007 18:50

Government 'disregards' rural issues

Written by  Ruralcity Media

The government has slashed the number of civil servants dealing with rural policy, an expert has warned.

Rural issues are not seen as a priority

Just two percent of the budget at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is now allocated to rural policy, claimed Neil Ward.

Professor Ward, director of Newcastle University’s Centre for Rural Economy, said Defra's priorities had shifted to the detriment of rural issues.

“The number of civil servants in Defra dealing with rural affairs has been dramatically reduced,” he told BBC Radio 4.

“There were around 130 or so civil servants responsible for socio-economic and rural development issues in Defra just a few years ago.

“Now there is likely to be fewer than 20.”

Prof Ward accused the government of having “an implicit disregard” for the effect its wider policies have on rural areas.

“I think that disregard has become much more explicit and the rural dimensions of public policy are now just taken off the agenda completely.

“There is a dramatic paring back of the civil service resource in Whitehall dealing with rural affairs and of the main quangos dealing with rural issues.”

Prof Ward’s warning echoes comments by the government’s own rural watchdog, the Commission for Rural Communities.

Speaking at last month’s Ruralnet 2007 conference, commission director Graham Russell said the government should take more account of rural affairs .

“Rural-proofing is not yet part of a systematic policy development or policy delivery in most government departments,” he told delegates.

Policy makers had generally failed to use rural data and evidence to rural-proof policies and their implementation, Mr Russell added.

A Defra spokesman insisted that the department worked across government and the wider public sector so policies and services addressed rural needs.

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