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Issues raised at the 3rd 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 (Daniel Carey-Lewis), Plunkett Foundation (Chris Cowcher), NFU (Amy Cobbett), Rural Coalition (Margaret Clark), Rural Services Network (Graham Biggs).

COVID-19 Recovery Update

  • The first local lockdown has, so far, been carried out on a cooperative basis. 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 on 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 powers to restrict access to a specified public outdoor place.
  • Ahead of COVID-19 restrictions easing from 4 July, work has taken place across government to help businesses and organisations prepare – including guidance for multi-purpose community centres (village halls). Defra’s guidance on access to green spaces will be revised to reflect changes to regulations, for example overnight stays and camping.
  • Defra has secured Cabinet Office funding to develop communications around safer access to green spaces and anti-littering. The funding will be used to research more closely the target audience for communications; create additional visual content for a toolkit for local campaigns; partner with a social media influencer to target young men on anti-littering; work with youth rangers in national parks.
  • Stakeholders highlighted the importance of guidance on rural play areas reflecting that they are unstaffed and there are possible consequential issues with cleaning play equipment. Communications and guidance also need to reflect the different demographic users of green gyms and rural play areas.
  • Plunkett Foundation highlighted that rural pubs were wary of taking on too much stock due to uncertainties around customer levels following a possible peak on 4/5 July.

Levelling Up: Implications for Rural Areas

  • There were three broad themes raised:
    • The need to cover all aspects of sustainable development; economic, social and the environment. The natural environment should be an important part of the levelling up narrative.
    • The need for effective coordination across Whitehall to ensure the rural angle was not lost. Stakeholders called for a rural levelling up strategy.
    • The need to allow for bottom-up, community led approaches to be developed was discussed. The Devolution White Paper was seen as a key mechanism. Civil society had a role to play.
  • RSN called for fair rural funding at local authority level.
  • CLA said levelling up should include environmental aspects.
  • NFU talked through their calls for high quality green jobs, consumer fairness, de-carbonisation and empowering communities.
  • ACRE discussed the common issues faced by coastal and rural areas.
  • Rural Coalition said it is important to take account of a range of factors including the costs of public transport in rural areas, not just whether there is a service.
  • CPRE had published a Regeneration Manifesto, to build back better and create thriving rural communities, which recommends a rural working group to tackle levelling up issues.
  • Plunkett Foundation suggested a review of the Localism Act (and the protection of assets) to create local level accountability.

Statistical update

  • NAO has worked with DfT to model transport and accessibility to services and findings will be published soon. They are also looking at costs and frequency of transport.

AOB

  • CPRE said it was important that there was transport to enable schools to restart, noting that people were being discouraged from using public transport. Defra confirmed that DfE was discussing this with local authorities..
  • The 10 July Forum meeting will focus on ‘volunteering’. The 17 July Forum meeting will focus on digital skills.

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