RSN Priority - A rural proofed policy framework
Mainstream policies, such as those on housing, health, education, planning and economic growth, must be workable in rural areas, where there can be distinct challenges delivering to small and scattered settlements or where economies of scale are harder to achieve.
- Policies that work in an urban context will not necessarily work in a rural context.
- Rural areas have specific needs and circumstances which need to be taken into account.
- Rural proofing is the policy making process intended to achieve that end. Unfortunately, various reviews have found that its implementation is patchy – including, most recently, the Independent Rural Proofing Implementation Review led by Lord Cameron.
- The review by Lord Cameron concluded that Defra has insufficient staff resources working on rural affairs. It questioned the ability of Defra, as lead department on this topic, to engage sufficiently with other Whitehall departments and to support rural proofing
- Various commentators have cited other factors that, when in place, make rural proofing more likely to succeed. They include having buy-in from departmental Ministers, policy makers consulting with rural interest groups and making rural proofing a more transparent process.
- That rural proofing can work well seems clear. A recent example of good practice is the Future Telecoms Infrastructure Review issued by DCMS. This seeks to address market failure in rural areas, proposing an approach to ensure rural communities are not left behind.
- Rural proofing can add just as much value at the local level, where services and policy initiatives are typically delivered. Its application can be especially beneficial in administrative areas that are mostly urban in character, yet which also contain rural localities.
Whilst the application of rural proofing has a mixed record, it has nonetheless proved a useful lever for seeking to have rural needs and circumstances taken into account. To improve its effectiveness a Rural Strategy should address certain points. They are:
- Reaffirming the rural proofing commitment and placing it on a firmer footing;
- Providing sufficient staff and resources to carry out the rural proofing function;
- Making it clearer what rural proofing actions policy makers are taking; and
- Ensuring that rural proofing filters down more consistently to the local level.