The National Rural Conference 2024

The Rural Services Network (RSN) is thrilled to announce the National Rural Conference 2024, taking place from 16th to 19th September. This virtual event, accessible via Zoom, is the premier gathering for senior officers, members, policymakers, and rural service professionals.
Further information and booking details can be found here

Delivering Rural Opportunity - The Third Report on Rural Proofing

The Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA) released its third Rural Proofing Report last week. The document titled "Delivering Rural Opportunity - The Third Report on Rural Proofing" provides an overview of the Government’s efforts to address the specific needs and challenges of rural areas.

The report is a follow-up to the policy statement "Unleashing Rural Opportunity" published in June 2023, detailing the Government's plan to level up rural areas by supporting people and businesses in achieving their potential. It is structured around four themes: growing the rural economy, enhancing connectivity, improving homes and energy, and strengthening communities.

Growing the Rural Economy

Investment: The report highlights investment through levelling up grant schemes and support for food and farming, aiming to harness the growth potential in rural areas. Notably, it mentions a £4.8 billion UK Shared Prosperity Fund and an additional £110 million through the Rural England Prosperity Fund to support rural businesses and community infrastructure.
Food and Farming: There's a continued commitment to invest £2.4 billion per year in England's farming sector, with new schemes introduced to replace EU land-based subsidies, focusing on soil health, wildlife habitats, and pest management.

Connectivity

Digital Connectivity: The government has made strides in improving rural broadband and mobile coverage, including the Wireless Infrastructure Strategy, The Shared Rural Network and Project Gigabit, with a goal of achieving at least 85% gigabit-capable coverage by 2025. 
Transport: Investments of £300 million to protect bus services into 2025 and trials of demand-responsive minibus services in rural areas are highlighted.

Homes and Energy

The report details new policies and funding to support rural housing development and energy efficiency, including amendments to the National Planning Policy Framework and the Home Upgrade Grant.

Housing: The document discusses efforts to facilitate the building of affordable homes in rural areas through updated planning policies and funding for Rural Housing Enablers.
Energy: There's a focus on expanding low-carbon and renewable electricity generation and enhancing the electricity transmission network to support a secure energy supply. Community benefits proposals are mentioned, aiming to support local projects with funding from the development of energy infrastructure.


Communities

Health: Efforts to improve access to quality health and social care in rural areas are outlined, including the expansion of medical school places in rural locations and the introduction of new Pharmacy First services.
Thriving Communities: The report underscores support for community infrastructure, like the £3 million Platinum Jubilee Village Halls Fund, and efforts to maintain access to cash and tackle rural crime, including the establishment of the National Rural Crime Unit.


Challenges and Goals

"Delivering Rural Opportunity" conveys an acknowledgement of the challenges of rural productivity, accessibility, and hardship, such as lower earnings in rural areas and higher house prices relative to earnings. It also notes the Government's commitment to levelling up rural areas and ensuring that policies consider the specific challenges of rurality.


Kerry Booth, Chief Executive, Rural Services Network

“The path towards actively levelling up rural areas hinges on the adoption of bespoke strategies and a commitment to equitable funding. It is crucial to initiate focused policies aimed at crafting solutions tailored to the unique challenges faced by rural communities. Rural areas require targeted funding solutions that acknowledge the higher costs of delivering services in sparsely populated regions, not a range of one-off funding pots that don’t provide coordinated action to enable local authorities to deliver core services. Despite a population exceeding that of Greater London, rural regions remain significantly underfunded, affecting essential sectors such as local government, healthcare, and emergency services. This disparity leaves our rural communities and businesses at a disadvantage, underserved, and overlooked. It is essential to address this imbalance with targeted funding strategies, designed specifically to meet the distinct needs of rural communities. Without this shift towards fairer and more focused investment, rural areas risk falling further behind, missing out on the transformative effects of major infrastructural investments. Our mission is to ensure that rural areas are provided with the targeted solutions they desperately need, fostering vibrant, resilient communities that are recognised for their unique potential and challenges.”

Sources:
https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/delivering-rural-opportunity/delivering-rural-opportunity-third-report-on-rural-proofing

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