STRONGER links between government departments are needed to ensure policies don't discriminate against rural communities, MPs have been told.
The Rural Services Network made the recommendation in evidence submitted to the Environment Food and Rural Affairs Committee.
The committee is conducting an inquiry into rural communities.
It is focusing on the work of the government's Rural Communities Policy Unit inquiry, its ability to act as a rural champion and its effectiveness in delivering rural development.
The policy unit is expected to play an important role in helping all government departments to ensure that their policies are effectively "rural proofed" before decisions are made.
But the Rural Services Network said: "Having observed rural proofing over many years, we consider there are various features which, rigorously employed, can make it more successful."
Defra and the policy unit clearly had a lead role, but all Whitehall departments – including the Treasury and Cabinet Office – should state their commitment to rural proofing.
"Rural proofing is more likely to be taken seriously if it is driven from the top. Visible buy-in from Departmental Ministers and senior civil servants will make a real difference."
Weak rural-proofing is often due to insufficient knowledge of rural circumstances and policy considerations within policy-making teams, said the Rural Services Network.
"Training and resources tailored to departmental areas of responsibility could certainly help. Good practice might also clarify what rural proofing looks like."
It added: "Strong links will need to be developed between the Rural Communities Policy Unit and other Whitehall departments to support rural proofing.
"The RCPU might – for example – raise awareness, improve understanding, help supply rural evidence and offer a within-Whitehall rural view on policy options or proposals."
Rural proofing should make full use of the rural evidence base, with government departments analysing their own datasets according to the rural-urban definition or classification.
Government departments should also make sure they consult rural communities and stakeholders when devising policy proposals.
"When departments monitor the success of policy measures they should include spatial analysis which identifies their (relative) success in rural areas.
"They should ensure rural lessons are learnt, with policies and regulations being adjusted where necessary."
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