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 group meet on the 05/06/20 and the outcomes of this meeting can be seen below:
Defra updated members on the published government guidance and communications released over the last week. Defra also updated members on work towards the next milestone in July.
Defra updated members on its communications work and emphasised that Defra was still keen on promoting the countryside code messaging across social media channels and by producing physical posters to emphasise the messaging further. Wildfires, BBQs and littering were mentioned as major problems. Defra highlighted that it was scoping out partnerships with influencers and highlighting content from Keep Britain Tidy on littering. Some members emphasised the real fear amongst people in rural areas particularly amongst elderly populations with the influx of people locally.
MHCLG joined the first part of the meeting to discuss guidance for the reopening of multi-use buildings such as from early July. Members raised the following points:
- In response to a question whether the guidance would also apply to multi use agricultural buildings, MHCLG confirmed that it was applicable only for community spaces and BEIS work place guidance would be more relevant for multi use agricultural buildings.
- Guidance needs to be sensitive and recognise that village halls were often community owned assets run by volunteers, who may be elderly.
- There were concerns over the division of management of volunteers and cleaning between users. Small rural communities were suffering most having these spaces closed.
- It was emphasised that local committees should use their own judgement but make sure that it is matched by regulations.
The second part of the meeting was on Test and Trace and understanding how it fits in as the government approach is developed further. Members raised the following points:
- There was a need to understand what local means and whether it includes a school, key workers or the entire village. It was highlighted that guidance is needed to make sure plans are in place before issues arise.
- Practical measures need to be in place to cover areas if someone becomes sick, for example where there is a lack of resilience and by looking ahead to harvest time.
- Members were pleased that there were five rural counties out of the eleven pilot areas for local outbreak plans. Defra was encouraged to work closely with these areas to ensure guidance can be rural proofed.
- It was important to learn lessons from the Isle of Wight piloting scheme, with discussion on this to be followed up offline with Defra RIC colleagues.
In terms of future meeting discussions, the following topics were raised:
- The discrepancy in guidance on overnight stays for business purposes and key workers
- Continuing concern over the beauty spots on the border of Wales and England
Rural transport issues including the implications of home to school transport when schools start opening
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