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Issues raised at the 10th July meeting of the Rural Impacts Stakeholder Forum (RISF)

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:

The 10th of July meeting was hosted by Defra and attended by ACRE (Jeremy Leggett), CLA (Charles Trotman), CPRE (Chris Hinchcliff), Plunkett Foundation (Chris Cowcher), NFU (Eleanor Griggs), Rural Coalition (Margaret Clark), Rural Services Network (Graham Biggs).

COVID-19 Recovery Update

  • Regulations implementing the local lockdown in Leicester have been published – http://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/2020/685/contents/made.
  • The main Covid regulations have also been revised to allow hospitality and other businesses to reopen from 4 July (see http://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/2020/684/made). The revised regulations give the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care ‘power to restrict access to public places’, with a number of sanctions in place.
  • Defra’s guidance on access to green spaces had been revised. MHCLG was planning to publish guidance on managing beaches and other hotspots (subsequently published at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/covid-19-guidance-for-managing-beaches-the-countryside-and-coastal-areas).
  • Defra had secured Cabinet Office funding to develop communications around safer access to green spaces and anti-littering. Defra planned to partner with LADbible to target young men on anti-littering; and had engaged with youth rangers in national parks.
  • The forum discussed the Chancellor’s Summer statement and its impact on rural business and rural tourism.
  • Rural Coalition and Plunkett highlighted the opportunity for young people (through the Kickstart Scheme announced on 8 July - aimed at helping unemployed young people into work, and the furlough bonus scheme). The communications however need to be right and there needs to be training and apprenticeships available in rural areas.
  • Plunkett reported that rural pubs may benefit more from a review of beer tax than the £10 voucher (when in fact £5 might have been of more benefit). They also continue to hear that rural pubs were wary of taking on too much stock due to uncertainties around future customer levels.

Action – At ACRE’s request, Defra will investigate how the £1,000 job retention bonus applied to rural, seasonal workers.


Volunteering in Rural Areas

  • Rural Coalition and ACRE highlighted that rural volunteering was often informal and coordinated by small organisations who needed financial support (to modernise the assets they already own) or up-skilling to be sustainable. Plunkett also called for investment to support training of volunteers for the wide range of roles (including administration) that they fulfil.
  • ACRE highlighted that rural civil society was distinct in terms of being place based rather than issue based in urban areas. The current situation provides an opportunity for people to re-discover their local geographic community and to volunteer.
  • Plunkett highlighted their concerns over the retention of the current voluntary network (who were elderly and vulnerable and had been shielding) and recruitment of the next generation in rural areas.
  • Stakeholders acknowledged the role of the Voluntary and Community sector in providing opportunities for young people and the lack of fundraising skills in rural organisations which puts them at a disadvantage when trying to secure funds. Rural Coalition highlighted that there was an opportunity for Treasury to join up at a level with the voluntary sector which has an important part to play both finding and allocating the jobs. RSN further added the issue about accessing the funding and the sustainability of funding: with grant conditions creating a barrier to delivering outcomes.
  • Plunkett highlighted the ‘Assessing the value of volunteers in community businesses’ paper: https://www.powertochange.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/Value_of_Volunteering_Working_Paper_Final.pdf

Action – Defra to organise a Communities roundtable event, with RISF members encouraged to suggest other stakeholders to invite.

Action – Stakeholders to feed into the work on how civil society can be utilised in levelling up and COVID-19 recovery that Danny Kruger MP had been asked to do by the PM (either directly of via Barbara Jones). 

Action - Stakeholders to give feedback on the impact of the National Lottery Communities Fund on rural based charities.

Action - ACRE to share their submission to Danny Kruger MP.


AOB

  • The 17 July Forum meeting will focus on digital skills.

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