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.
Further information and booking details can be found here

Levelling Up Bill receives Royal Assent: RSN Chief Executive reviews what will it mean for rural

Last week the much-anticipated Levelling Up & Regeneration Bill received Royal Assent.  The expected game of Ping-Pong between Houses never occurred and most of the government’s changes to the Lord’s amendments were accepted when the Bill returned to the Lords for approval.

This included the changes made to Lord Foster’s initial amendment which would have seen the government ensure all Levelling Up Missions were rural proofed:

“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.”

On behalf of RSN members, I worked closely with Lord Foster to bring about this amendment which we saw as a win for all rural communities.  However, when the Bill was presented to the Commons, a motion had been included to disagree with Lord Foster’s amendment.    Instead, The Secretary of State for Levelling Up & Regeneration, Michael Gove MP (Surrey Heath, MP) had introduced the alternative: 

  • 6A Clause 1, page 1, line 14, at end insert— “(2B) In the course of preparing a statement of levelling-up missions, the Minister of the Crown must have regard to the needs of rural areas.”
  • 6B Clause 2, page 2, line 32, at end insert— “(1A) In the course of preparing each report, the Minister of the Crown must have regard to the needs of rural areas.”
  • 6C Clause 4, page 4, line 16, at end insert— “(2A) In discharging functions under this section, a Minister of the Crown must have regard to the needs of rural areas.”
  • 6D Clause 5, page 6, line 7, at end insert— “(13) In carrying out functions under this section, a Minister of the Crown must have regard to the needs of rural areas.”

When this was presented to the House of Commons, several MPs spoke up on behalf of rural constituents.  These included St Ives MP, Derek Thomas who, through his role as Chair of the APPG for Rural Services, has worked with RSN to ensure rural communities are fully represented.

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He told the House:

“I am grateful to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and the departmental team for their engagement with me. My right hon. Friend assures me that, rather than accept the Lords amendment, the Government will give greater force to the commitment to level up, and that they will be obliged to consider economic, social and other outcomes in setting up levelling-up missions, including the specific needs of rural communities. I welcome the acknowledgement that rural communities have a specific case worthy of consideration.”

However, MPs voted to accept the government changes and the Bill was returned to the Lords for approval.  The Lords accepted the changes and last week the Bill received Royal Assent and became law. 

Whilst I am disappointed that the Bill did not go further to protect rural areas in Levelling Up, pragmatically, this is a win.  The government is waking up to the fact that 40% of constituencies are rural and these votes will be crucial to winning the next election.  Rural can no longer be overlooked. 

Speaking to Lord Foster, he stated that he saw the developments as “significant progress – at last” and highlighted the following excerpt from his speech to the Minister re rural proofing:

“I will take the Minister’s word for it that he has been given total assurance that this procedure was adopted for the passage of the Bill. For that reason, I will not press and have not put down an amendment to repeat what my earlier amendment said. But it would be enormously helpful if, for the sake of those of us who are still somewhat sceptical, he could provide written evidence of the procedure having been carried out.

“As I have said, I am enormously grateful that—through the amendment he has brought, repeating the one I originally proposed—we now have reference in the Bill that the specific needs of rural communities will be taken into account in drawing up the mission statements. I am enormously grateful for the work he did to ensure that this happened, so I end by once again expressing my thanks to the Minister.”

I look forward to continuing our work on this as we head to the next General Election and ensuring all political parties understand what rural communities need and why this is so important to the UK.


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