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Issues raised at the 17th 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 17th of July meeting was hosted by Defra and attended by officials from DCMS, ACRE (Richard Quallington), CLA (Charles Trotman), CPRE (Daniel Carey-Dawes), Plunkett Foundation (James Alcock), NFU (Amy Cobbett), Rural Coalition (Margaret Clark), Rural Services Network (Graham Biggs).

COVID-19 Update

  • Stakeholders were advised that the Prime Minister would be making a statement on COVID-19 and corresponding guidance would be released:

PM statement on coronavirus: 17 July 2020

COVID-19 contain framework: a guide for local decision-makers

Local authority powers to impose restrictions under coronavirus regulations

  • Defra has secured Cabinet Office funding to develop communications around safer access to green spaces and anti-littering. The funding has partly been used to create additional visual content for a toolkit for local campaigns which should be delivered around the end of July.

Digital Skills

Paper – Digital Skills & Inclusion Policy Update

  • DCMS provided an update on digital skills and inclusion policy including Local Digital Skills Partnerships and Digital Boost.
  • CLA - There is lack of understanding, including by providers, of the need for better rural digital connectivity. Communication is needed to promote the benefits of digital skills and connectivity to rural businesses and improve SMEs trust in providers.
  • RSN - There is currently little incentive to develop digital skills when connectivity is insufficient. Consequently, rural areas will be at a disadvantage when digital connectivity is improved as they won’t have developed digital skills.
  • CPRE - Called for prioritising the use of digital solutions and channels to help areas that have lost services but this requires better connectivity, for example, mobile banking vans intended to replace closed branches could not work where there was no signal.
  • ACRE- There is an opportunity for existing infrastructure to support rural digital skills and connectivity, for example, village halls and shops to support digital hubs. Also, ACRE members run digital skills exercises so could provide a link for developing digital skills in the third sector and rural communities.
  • NFU - The main challenge is to communicate to farmers the benefits of investing time and finances into digital skills and connectivity.
  • Plunkett Foundation – There is currently an opportunity for businesses to use digital routes to retain the customers they had gained, via online shopping, during lockdown. Also, an opportunity to use digital services more widely in rural areas, for example, in healthcare.
  • Rural Coalition – The spending review provides an opportunity for government to take a more joined up approach to digital skills and connectivity in rural areas.

Action – Defra and DCMS to consider how to use the spending review to take a more joined up approach to digital skills and connectivity in rural areas.

Action – Defra to consider the whether there would be any impact on timing and access to 5G in rural areas from the decisions around Huawei.

Action – DCMS and Stakeholders to suggest new members, to represent rural interests, on the Digital Skills Partnership Board.

Action – Rural Communities Team (Defra) to produce a digital (skills and connectivity) action note with DCMS.


  • The next Forum meeting is due to focus on the recovery rural communities.

Action – Secretariat to consider the following items for the RISF forward look: CSR, rural proofing, devolution agenda.


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