Issues raised at the 31st 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 meeting was hosted by Defra and attended by ACRE (Jeremy Leggett), CLA (Charles Trotman), CPRE (Chris Hinchliff), Plunkett Foundation (James Alcock), NFU (Amy Cobbett), Rural Coalition (Margaret Clark), and Rural Services Network (Graham Biggs).
Update from Defra
- The Rural and Place Team are now part of Tom Walker’s Directorate.
Rural Communities’ Recovery
- Jeremy Leggett (ACRE) gave a presentation on ‘Covid-19 impact on rural communities’ (download here) highlighting the issues of vulnerability of ‘anchor’ citizens; the value of local and community owned services; rural food poverty and lack of access to food; digital connectivity; school transport; and the negative impact of COVID-19 on very local fundraising and discretionary LA funding.
- RSN expected that local authorities would need to cut discretionary spending such as on the voluntary sector and buses because of financial pressures. RSN called for redistribution of existing government funding to ensure rural areas were fairly treated.
- Plunkett Foundation said voluntary organisations and business needed support to take up new opportunities during recovery e.g. digital services.
- CPRE noted that rural communities had become the centre of life for many during lockdown and there was an opportunity for this to continue if, for example, digital connectivity was improved.
- NFU highlighted the link between action on net zero and recovery as well as the opportunity to encourage the use of local suppliers resulting in shorter supply chains.
- Rural Coalition called for government to better fund and support national and local organisations that supported community activities and volunteering in rural areas.
- There was general acceptance that young people needed support in order to stay in rural areas e.g. by providing jobs, housing and education. There is an opportunity for younger people to engage with rural communities given the challenge that older population, who are vulnerable, and may decide not to continue volunteering.
Action – RSN to feed back on their young people consultation.
- Stakeholders agreed that there is not one single challenge for rural communities during recovery. What is needed is a better understanding of how the challenges, for example around jobs, housing and services, are interconnected.
- HMT has released guidance on how to submit representations to Comprehensive Spending Review 2020 and stakeholders are encouraged to input, either directly or via Defra
- Defra will host a CSR roundtable on Friday 7 August - at which they will confirm the timings and process for stakeholders to input into the CSR. The aim will be to capture CSR bids with specific outcomes/metrics/targets.
Action – Stakeholders to propose additional attendees for the CSR roundtable by 14:00, Tuesday 4 August.
- RISF members are invited to Defra’s CSR roundtable on Friday 7 August. The next RISF meeting will be on Friday 4 September.