The National Rural Conference 2024

The Rural Services Network (RSN) is thrilled to announce the National Rural Conference 2024, taking place from 16th to 19th September. This virtual event, accessible via Zoom, is the premier gathering for senior officers, members, policymakers, and rural service professionals.
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Levelling-Up Bill - Lords agree needs rural proofing

The Government’s Levelling-Up and Regeneration Bill was discussed again in the House of Lords last week and this time the issue of rural featured heavily.  In two amendments proposed by Lord Foster of Bath, the Government was challenged to prove that the Bill had been properly rural proofed and, if not, to ensure such a report is published alongside the first statement of Levelling-Up missions. 

Speaking in the House, Lord Foster said: “The Rural Services Network, using government metrics, concluded that if all rural areas were brought together and treated as a single region, their need for levelling up would be greater than for any other region.” He went on to say that although Defra has produced its rural proofing report, despite its title it provides no evidence whatever of rural proofing procedures being followed. The Rural Services Network concluded: “Nowhere … is anything evidenced anywhere to show if these processes were followed”.  Lord Foster stated “I asked on two separate occasions whether a Minister could tell me whether those rural proofing processes were carried out in relation to the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill. I have had no response.”

Lord Foster went onto say that: “I hope I might get an answer to the question today of how the Bill has been rurally proofed. If not, we can fall back on the two amendments that I have put down. Amendment 303 simply requires that that answer be provided before the Act is implemented. Amendment 10 deals with mission statements and seeks to embed rural proofing in them, requiring “a rural proofing report detailing the ways in which the levelling-up missions have regard to their impact on rural areas and will address the needs of rural communities”. That is a pretty simple request, given that it is meant to be government policy anyway.”

Baroness Hayman of Ullock told the House that she had grown up in a rural area and fully understood the geographical disparities. She went onto support Lord Foster’s amendments to the Bill saying “We talk about rural proofing in relation to the impact of policies on rural areas. I think we are looking at it from the wrong end of the telescope. Policies should be developed for rural communities in the first place, reflecting the challenges that we face. If we are going to rural-proof properly, we need to do both. I have probably said enough on this, but I am sure noble Lords have gathered that, if the noble Lord, Lord Foster, wishes to test the opinion of the House, we will be very happy to support his amendment.”

Her support was echoed by Lord Curry of Kirkharle, who said: “I particularly support the comments of the noble Lords, Lord Foster and Lord Carrington, and the amendments that they have tabled on rural proofing. I share the frustration of the noble Lord, Lord Foster, in having cantered round this course so many times before without having had a satisfactory conclusion…. it is essential that the whole of government engages in the rural-proofing agenda, which is why it is important that this item is discussed and considered within the Bill, so that it is seen as a government responsibility to deliver rural proofing.”

In response, Baroness Scott of Bybrook said “The Bill is subject to the same scrutiny and therefore has been assessed accordingly to ensure that all communities, including rural ones, are sufficiently considered. Given the existing mechanisms in place, we do not believe it is necessary to impose a further condition on the provisions of the Bill.”

However, Lord Foster reminded Baroness Scott that true rural proofing is about more than “giving a list of good things you have done in rural areas.”  He went on to ask to see the Rural Proofing report for the Bill, to which Baroness Scott replied: “My Lords, a number of proofings have been done on the Bill. I will ask for those and make sure that they are brought forward.”

Lord Foster’s amendment 10 was approved and a date is to be set for the third reading of the Bill in the House of Lords.

Amendement 10 in full:
10: After Clause 1, insert the following new Clause -“Rural proofing report: Alongside the first statement of levelling-up missions required by section 1, the Secretary of State must publish a rural proofing report detailing the ways in which the levelling-up missions have regard to their impact on rural areas and will address the needs of rural communities.”


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