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Cllr R Kemp (Babergh District Council); Cllr Mrs P M Tull (Chichester District Council);
Cllr Myles Cullen (Chichester District Council); Leigh Parker (Cornwall Council); Cllr Hilary Carrick (Cumbria County Council); Cllr K Potter (East Devon District Council);
Cllr R Reichhold (East Northamptonshire Council); Cllr Mrs M Robinson (Eden District Council); Cllr Mac Cotterell (Fenland District Council); Cllr Raymond Ellis (Hampshire County Council); Cllr N Daubney (Kings Lynn and West Norfolk); Cllr Mrs B Harvey OBE (Lincolnshire County Council); Cllr Derrick Haley (Mid Suffolk District Council); Cllr I G S Cartwright MBE (North Kesteven District Council); Cllr Hayden Phillips (North Warwickshire Borough Council); Cllr Robert Heseltine (North Yorkshire County Council); Malcolm Leeding (Oxfordshire Association of Local Councils); Cllr Roger Begy (Rutland County Council); Cllr Cecilia Motley (Shropshire Council); Cllr Madge Shineton (Shropshire Council); Cllr Jeremy Savage (South Norfolk District Council); Cllr C Clarke South (Northamptonshire District Council); William Jacobs (South Oxfordshire and Vale of White Horse DC); Cllr Peter Stevens (St Edmundsbury District Council); Cllr Mr Geoff Holdcroft (Suffolk Coastal District Council); Laura Beardsell-Moore (Suffolk County Council); Cllr P Sanders (West Devon Borough Council and South Hams); Cllr Lewis Strange (West Lindsey District Council).
Apologies for absence:
Graham Biggs; Cllr Mike Jones (Cheshire West & Chester); Cllr Chris Knowles-Fitton (Craven); Oliver Shimell (Eden); Cllr Jane Horne (Forest of Dean); Chris Bull (Herefordshire); Cllr Milner Whiteman (Shropshire); Cllr Suttle (Purbeck); Cllr Rachel Allen (Richmondshire); Cllr Jane Mortimer (Scarborough); Cllr Hicks (South Hams);
Cllr Fleur de Rhé-Philipe (Wiltshire).
Apologies for absence:
Martin Holland (Shropshire Housing Group); Madge Moore (Lantra); David Bale (Easton College); Richard Kirlew (Church of Wales); Richard Crompton (Lincolnshire Police).
Sparse Rural Meeting
A Fairer Funding/Business Rate Situation (See Attachment D)
David Inman outlined the timeframe for this work and an announcement is expected in November/December. The current thought was that there could be a betterment for rural areas although there is still a massive amount of work to do.
Dan Bates said that in the restructure/changes in DCLG consultation, Sparse Rural and RSN had not been represented in the new baseline sub-group. This issue has been raised. Concessionary fares and additional costs of rural services were currently being considered by DCLG and research on this has been requested but without any allocation of funding by the Government.
The Chairman outlined recent key meetings, including a meeting with Bob Neill MP, which established that DCLG is indeed focussing on rural and concessionary fares. The department is looking at damping and is also interested in census and population figures, especially around older people. He congratulated David Inman and the officers for getting DCLG to, at long last, concentrate on these issues.
David Inman stressed the importance of producing and storing evidence to demonstrate rural issues and influence government. The Chairman said he believed there would be DCLG consultation documentation by July, with final announcements expected in the autumn and implementation in April next year.
• the need to continue to press MPs into considering rural issues and the importance of providing sound evidence to do so.
• whether any local authorities had done analysis on business rate returns. Dan Bates said that the LGA had done some analysis but that past figures may not be indicative of future growth.
• how business rates might be fixed. Dan Bates said that it is difficult to estimate the final position and that there are many factors which could fluctuate the figures.
The Chairman said he was grateful to Graham Stuart MP for ensuring rural messages reach the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State.
B 2012/13 Settlement
Dan Bates presented a variety of figures on the differences between rural and urban spending power. The rural messages were that the gap needs to be narrowed between urban and rural, that sparsity should hold more weight in the funding formula and that even the averages hide extreme discrepancies between some authorities.
• the previous shift of government focus towards northern urban areas, which are reflected in the figures.
• the importance of ensuring rural political messages are heard and the need to avoid getting bogged down in figures. Dan Bates reiterated that the Prime Minster and the Rt Hon Eric Pickles MP had been given a page of analysis which was not overly technical and which highlighted the fundamental messages.
• it is positive that the DCLG team had exemplified the Sparse Rural claim. Dan Bates said that government is acknowledging the rural messages but that these must still be pushed.
C Refuse Collection Work
The Local Government Resource Review consultation states that it will consider the formulae for the cost of rural services. Dan Bates’ presentation focussed on how to best demonstrate the ‘rural penalty’ through a case study comparison of refuse collection between an urban and rural authority. Dan Bates added that the more figures authorities can provide the stronger the evidence base would become.
The Chairman reiterated the need for political messages. He thanked the officers for their work and said that there has not been a better opportunity to get these messages across to government.
Full Rural Service Network Meeting
1 Apologies for absence
Apologies were noted by Members and are listed above.
2 Minutes (See Attachment A)
The minutes of the last full meeting on 21 November 2011 were agreed by Members.
3 Minutes of the Executive Meeting (See Attachment B)
David Inman urged members to ensure their authorities would contribute the £900 requested to the fighting fund. He also emphasised that the term of notice for RSN members to leave is 12 months from 31st March in any one year. On the RSP Health Group, the Chairman said that the implications of the health reforms for local authorities were uncertain.
David Inman said that Post Bank Coalition membership was being kept as a watching brief. A Post Office Limited/LGA Strategic Engagement Forum was flagged up to members as a space for LGA influence on post offices.
The Chairman highlighted that the Commission for Rural Communities (CRC) consultation had been circulated and members added the need for the Rural Communities Policy Unit (RCPU) to cover some of this work.
The minutes of the Executive Meeting on 23 January 2012 were agreed by Members.
4 Rural Fair Share Campaign
David Inman updated members that the Chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Rural Services, Graham Stuart MP, has set up a separate parliamentary action group relating to Rural Fair Share. He is particularly concerned with health, where it was not considered as an added allowance for the cost of serving rural areas. The sparsity factor should also be considered across all services including housing, police and fire.
5 Structuring of Sparse Rural Group (See Attachment C)
David Inman outlined the report, which proposed to expand the Sparse Rural Group more extensively into Significant Rural as well as Predominantly Rural, clarify the relationship with the LGA and Rural Commission and clarify the role definition between full and associate members. The detail needed to be incorporated into the constitution and the LGA informed. David Inman said that those authorities in significant rural who would clearly benefit from the proposed formulae change should be approached but that the financial benefit for some authorities in significant rural was limited.
The Chairman highlighted the importance of the proposals for stronger liaison with the Rural Commission.
6 Budget (See Attachment E)
David Inman said that the focus for this year’s and next year’s budget is to establish certainty in the current period of austerity. He hoped that the limited number of authorities who had given notice would in the end remain in membership. The figures attached to the agenda omitted reference to those authorities. He stressed the importance of evidencing the service value of RSN.
Members mentioned video conferencing as a useful medium for meetings, which the chairman said would be investigated.
The Chairman assured members that the budgetary position was a relatively strong one. It needed to be, he stressed, given the range of work being undertaken.
7 A Unitary Special Interest Group (See Attachment F)
Members agreed the details and three recommendations of the report on Potential Formation of a Rural Unitary Group. The Chairman agreed to progress the work on the basis set out in the briefing.
Brian Wilson outlined the Neighbourhood Planning survey which was sent to the Community Group members of RSN in November 2011, providing the key findings, which highlighted evidence of strong appetite from rural areas for Neighbourhood Plans, particularly in order for local people to have more say in planning and development decisions. The main concern was that resources and funding might not meet needs or expectations.
The Chairman thanked Brian Wilson for his presentation. Members:
• echoed the need for more detail from government on funding, the implementation of neighbourhood plans and referenda
• were concerned that smaller and non-vanguard areas may not have the resources to deal with Neighbourhood Plans and may not be able to reap the benefits in any case
• were concerned about a lack of understanding of Neighbourhood Plans in small parishes
• suggested Parish Plans as a good basis for Neighbourhood Plans
• suggested Community Action Officers as good facilitators of Neighbourhood Plans
• highlighted the danger of raising the expectations of communities
• said it was important for older people to be able to stay in their communities.
Brian Wilson added that there are examples of small town and parish councils working together on Neighbourhood Plans. Inclusiveness of the community is important and there is potential to draw on local experts to help draw up plans to then be submitted by parish councils (for example). The Chairman thanked Brian Wilson.
David Inman said that despite difficulties in sustaining the RSP groups in times of austerity, there is a need to take a step further and allow them to meet, email and work on their thoughts and concerns together. There is a need for national forums to ensure their rural issues were heard. Attempts to formalise groups in health, housing, police and fire would be made over the next 6 months.
10 Big Green Gap Year (See Attachment 2 and Attachment 3 and Attachment 4)
James Derounian outlined his proposals for a Big Green Gap Year for school leavers to do six months community, sustainable and environmental volunteering in exchange for an educational credit, for example of £3000 to go towards first year university tuition fees. The Scheme would enable students to develop for HE/FE and/or employment, address a democratic deficit of this age group, encourage cross-generational work, engagement and big society/localism. It would also provide the opportunity to address and solve rural issues, strengthen rural communities and people’s connections within them.
The Chairman and members thanked James Derounian for his presentation.
11 Rural Bus Services – Concessionary Fares and current issues
John Birtwistle talked through the key issues in relation to rural buses. He highlighted that negotiation between local authorities and bus operators on concessionary fares are ongoing and that as operators are set to receive reduced reimbursements, marginal services will be hit hard. He stressed that bus operators cannot run unviable services and are therefore continuing to talk to local authorities to reach resolutions and minimise route closures.
Planning policy is important in linking areas and encouraging viable bus routes which pick up and drop off along routes rather than taking all passengers from one hub to another. Out of town retail parks are hard to service and the Portas free parking recommendation might undermine public transport. He urged members to keep these points in mind when discussing rural buses and said that future success would come with the best partnership working.
The Chairman thanked John Birtwistle and said that local authorities need to help bus operators find sustainable solutions, and not only on funding issues, through partnerships.
Item 13 was taken before item 12
13 Rural LEPs Group
David Inman gave details of a Defra initiative to bring together LEPs in a group. The group would not be restricted to the problems of particularly rural authorities however and it had been suggested that RSN could facilitate an additional narrower arrangement. He said that costs would need to be drawn up for such a grouping and
asked for members’ views.
The Chairman asked for this to be taken as a full agenda item and for LEPs to be canvassed. Members stressed the importance of local authority representation on LEPs and suggested possibly linking to the rural growth national pilots.
David Inman will prepare a full report for a future meeting and will send a questionnaire to members to gather views.
12 Revised Service and Website (See Attachment I)
David Inman said that there was concern that members had problems in accessing the site due to password difficulties. This may dissuade people from logging in. Members had been contacted about the possibility of opening up the website for access without a password and no feedback against this had been received. The decision had therefore been taken to remove password protection except for forum areas.
14 Area Forums and Seminars (See Attachment 5)
David Inman said that the free forums and seminars had been popular and successful. He congratulated Ivan Annabal for an admirable job and suggested that the events continue for future years, with the addition of an event in the South East and a website rolling review process after each event. The events have mainly been held at university venues and David Inman said that it was important to engage properly with these institutions in this way.
The Chairman echoed his thanks for the events, which had provided great knowledge gathering opportunities.
15 Items from the Long Grass
The Chairman thanked all for attending.
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