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

RSN Executive Board

The table below sets out the members of the Executive Board for the Rural Services Network, comprising both senior Councillors from across our membership of rural local authorities, and also specialist representatives from the world of housing, business, rural buses and young people. 

The Executive helps to manage the overall work of the Rural Services Network and has strategic overview for the organisation.

Chair of Rural Services Network

Cllr Roger Phillips

Roger is an experienced councillor holding office since 2011, he represents Herefordshire Council.   

He is a previous Leader of Herefordshire County Council and former chairman of the West Midlands Councils, Regional Transport Partnership and joint Strategy and Investment Board.

Councillor Phillips now sits on several outside bodies including County Councils Network, Hereford and Worcester Fire Authority, Local Government Association and Worcester Local Pension Board.

Herefordshire Council
Deputy Chair 

Cllr Peter Thornton

Born in Kendal Peter has lived in the Lake District valley of Longsleddale (the model for Greendale, home of Postman Pat) for the past 32 years.

A former leader of South Lakeland District Council and deputy leader of Cumbria County Council, Peter has now become a Councillor for the newly formed Westmorland and Furness Council and is the current Cabinet Member for Highways and Assets. Peter has been challenged by slow rural broadband and the lack of rural affordable housing. He was delighted when a small band of pensioners and farmers brought fibre to his valley and is proud of South Lakeland’s commitment to deliver 1,000 affordable homes to rent over 10 years.

Westmorland and Furness Council
RSP Chair

Nik Harwood

Nik has spent his career in children & young people’s services – both in the voluntary and public sectors. He has focused most of his professional life in Somerset but has operated at a regional and national level. He has been Chief Executive of two youth organisations, adept at transformational change and with a track record of creativity, innovation and partnership development. Nik is passionate about making a difference in the lives of young people – ensuring that their voice is amplified in work he leads; having grown up in West Somerset, Nik has experienced the issues of being young in a sparsely populated rural landscape. Currently Nik is the Chief Executive of Young Somerset & Chair of the Rural Services Partnership.

Young Somerset
First Vice Chair 

Cllr Robert Heseltine

Being born towards the closing days of World War Two into a traditional Dales farming family at Hesketh House, Bolton Abbey, my early childhood was somewhat idyllic.  The family motto was and still is ‘Work hard, be thrifty & always be caring and help others’.

I became involved with Public Life as a member of Craven District Council in 1976, North Yorkshire County Council in 1977 and also the Yorkshire Dales National Park the same year and continue to serve on them all.

I am a lifelong fanatical supporter of Burnley Football Club and somewhat renowned as an ace mole catcher.

North Yorkshire County Council
Executive Board Member

Cllr Cecilia Motley

Cecilia has been Shropshire Council’s representative on the Rural Services Network since 2007 and a Vice Chair up to 2014 when she was elected Chair. Cecilia has been a local government Councillo since 2003 and is a past Leader of South Shropshire District Council. When Shropshire went unitary in 2009, she was elected to represent a large rural division in the south of the county and joined the Cabinet representing Communities, Place, Culture, Leisure, Tourism and Transport. She has been a Rural Champion for Shropshire for many years and brings first-hand knowledge of the issues affecting rural and very sparse communities. She represents Shropshire on the Local Government Association and the County Councils Network and has a longstanding interest in and concern for rural issues. 

Shropshire Council
Executive Board Member

Cllr Philip Atkins OBE

Philip is a working farmer and balances his wide public duties with running a demanding land based business including mixed farming and a fly fishing club on the River Dove.

Philip has  represented Uttoxeter Rural Division on Staffordshire County Council since 1987, Leader from 2009 – 2020, East Staffordshire Borough Councillor for 8 years and has been on various LGA Boards, a LEP Board member, the Strategic Board of Midlands Engine and Midlands Connects and Chairman of the Constellation Partnership. He is a past Vice Chairman of the County Council Network and has been on various PMC Boards and is currently on the National ESIF Board. Philip is also a Governor at South Staffordshire College which includes Rodbaston, Vice President of CPRE Staffordshire and was Uttoxeter NFU Branch Chairman for 10 years.

Philip represents a remarkably economically diverse division in Staffordshire because it is predominately rural but contains the world headquarters of JCB, one of the UK’s leading manufacturing exporters and a brand that is known around the world and is next door to Alton Towers and the Peak Park.

The need to reinvigorate the “wealth creators” in the rural economy is a key theme of much of Philip’s work.  This includes transforming training and developing hi-tech and sustainable industries linked to outstanding research and development to help the rural economy.

Staffordshire County Council
Executive Board Member

Cllr Robert Waltham MBE

Rob has served on North Lincolnshire since 2007 and is the Leader of the Council with Cabinet responsibility for strategy, transformation and place shaping.

He is a board member of a number of high-profile organisations such as the Humber Local Enterprise Partnership, Greater Lincolnshire Local Enterprise Partnership, Rail North Limited, Transport for the North, Humberside Airport, LGA People and Places Board and previously Humberside Fire Authority and Ongo Homes Limited.

Rob taught in further education between 2002 and 2009. He has served in senior roles in a number of businesses throughout his career. Before full time politics he ran his own successful consultancy business, his clients included the East Midlands Development Agency, Lincolnshire County Council, Nottingham City Council, Leicester College and the YMCA.

Rob’s key skill area is change management and transformed North Lincolnshire Council on to a business footing and developed a diverse commercial agenda which has ensured North Lincolnshire continues to lead the way in innovation and delivering value for money, whilst providing first class services to its residents.

North Lincolnshire Council
Executive Board Member

Cllr Trevor Thorne

Trevor has held office at Northumberland County Council since 2017 and is chair of the council’s Strategic Planning Committee and is also an active member of the Family and Children’s Services Overview and Scrutiny Committee, Safeguarding and Corporate Parenting Group and the Standing Advisory Council on Religious Education.

Northumberland County Council
Executive Board Member

Cllr Adam Paynter

Adam has been a member of Cornwall Council since its inception in 2009 and previous to that was a Member of Cornwall County Council for 8 years.  he has held many positions in the Council including Leader, Deputy Leader and cabinet and scrutiny positions.  His ward is a rural one in North Cornwall, and he lives with his wife and 2 children.  Adam is a keen festival goer and attends both Glastonbury and Reading music festivals volunteering for a medical charity.

Cornwall Council
Executive Board Member

Cllr Gale Waller

Gale graduated from the London School of Economics in 1974 and worked first in sales promotions for a national retailer then trained as a further education lecturer. After some years of teaching she moved to work in local authority administration in London then joined the Local Government Association before moving to District Audit and, after it amalgamated with the Audit Commission, worked on local authority inspection and became the Midlands lead for education and the national lead on youth services.

Gale has lived in Rutland for over twenty years and has been a Rutland County Councillor for twelve of these. She was elected Leader of Rutland County Council in May 2023.

Rutland Council
sarah pugh Executive Board Member

Cllr Sarah Pugh

Sarah was first elected to West Suffolk District Council at a bi-election in 2021 before successfully retaining her seat in the Local Elections of 2023. She has served on Overview and Scrutiny; the Local Plan Working Group and is currently Shadow Cabinet Member for Housing and Health.

Her journey into politics started when she was appointed Chair of the Wool Towns LEADER group in 2016, overseeing the distribution of two million Euros in business support for her area which covered parts of Essex and Suffolk. From frost fans for the burgeoning viticulture industry; no-till seed drills; farm diversification projects such as creating cafes, farm shops, butcheries, guest accommodation through to a temperature controlled workshop for an artisan chocolate maker - the range of enterprise behind front doors, hedges and in the bottoms of gardens was hugely uplifting but the challenges such small businesses faced to access grant support gave her impetus to stand for election to be able to speak up for rural enterprise more formally.

Sarah was the East of England representative on the Leader Exchange Group run by DEFRA and contributed to the Prince of Wales’ Foundation study into the challenges of rural living.

Sarah is a successful business woman in her own right, running a specialist marine art gallery for over 18 years and also a trained picture framer for the last 7 years. She is Treasurer of the Clare Business Association and an Executive Member of the West Suffolk Conservative Association.

West Suffolk Council
Executive Board Member

Cllr Mark Whittington

Mark is both a county and district councillor, serving on Lincolnshire County Council since 2015.  He holds a wide number of committee appointments at county level including Adult and Community Wellbeing Scrutiny Committee, Children and Young People Scrutiny Committee and the Corporate Parenting Panel. He also represents the county council on the Adoption and Permanence Panels, County Councils Network, Local Government Association and Standing Advisory Council on Religious Education. 

Mark’s district level appointments include being chair of both the Governance and Audit Committee and the Constitution Committee.

Lincolnshire County Council and South Kesteven District Council
RSP (Housing Portfolio)

Martin Collett

Martin is the Chief Executive of English Rural Housing Association and has been working in the rural housing sector for around 20 years.  He is a Corporate Member of the Chartered Institute of Housing, graduate of the University of London and former Chair of the Rural Housing Alliance.  Martin is also a Trustee of the rural community business charity the Plunkett Foundation and is the current Chair of the Governance and Nominations Committee.  He is also a Trustee of the LGBTQ+ youth homelessness charity the Albert Kennedy Trust.  Martin joined the Executive in 2019 as an affordable housing specialist.

English Rural Housing Association


Sign up to our newsletter to receive all the latest news and updates.