The Chairman, Cllr Cecilia Motley, RSN was unable to attend the meeting. Cllr Peter Stephens (one of the RSN Vice Chairs) took the chair for the meeting.
Members noted the full list of apologies would be included with the minutes.
The minutes from the last meeting held on 21 November were approved. Members noted that apologies from Cllr Jane Mortimer and Richard Kirlew had not been recorded in those minutes.
The minutes from the meeting held on 13 March were accepted. Reference to West Lindsey's proposed motion to campaign on issues of GPs in rural areas had been omitted from the note of the meeting but members were informed that work was in progress and that a note had recently been sent to local authorities.
Members received a presentation from Brian Wilson (Brian Wilson Associates) whilst Graham Biggs (RSN) provided some background on the RSN's priorities in respect of the issues covered in the report.
In the past, The Rural Services Network had produced a series of narrower based reports in the past. With the establishment of Rural England C I C and many more stakeholders now on board the range and depth of the SORS report had been increased significantly
The launch of the Report in the House of Commons had been very successful and lots of excellent media coverage secured.
Members heard about recent statistics and trends with the aim of bringing together existing sources of evidence. The aim would be to produce an updated report every 2-3 years with updated information (and possibly some new services) in order to inform rural debate and provide independent research advice.
Members noted common issues – in particular the fact that nearly all services in rural areas are experiencing cutbacks with third sector service provision expanding. There were major concerns about lack of rural bus services and closing bank branches and the pressure on the demand for services by the ageing rural population, such as Adult Social Care. The Group heard about possible implications for access and choice and noted the lack of recorded data around certain issues.
Members raised various points:
• Community shops are an asset in rural areas – particularly in bringing the community together with enterprises such as coffee shops, although recruiting volunteers was difficult in some case.
• A member questioned accuracy of figures showing the rural population and felt that these were greater than shown as there were rural areas located within metropolitan and urban areas. It was agreed that it was not an easy task to identify a definite number because of National definitions and the geographical level at which national data was available. The SORS used the lowest geographical level available
• Engagement of parish/town councils and religious institutions were vital and should be brought into community considerations more than is currently the case in some areas.
• Isolation is a major issue particularly around mental ill health which often go undiagnosed in rural areas. Members agreed that they would like to see a Minister appointed with responsibilities including rural isolation and vulnerability
• They discussed community led housing schemes and difficulties in recruiting volunteers / teams, particularly those with the correct expertise.
Members agreed that it was a good evidence based report and an excellent resource of information, but noted cuts to local authority research departments would be mean it may not be used as much as it should be.
Mr Biggs agreed many issues were due to lack of funding and the importance of finding solutions from local people. The RSN would advise on existing barriers and this kind of report would provide an opportunity to lobby for funding to be directed towards rural services. He referred to the Green paper on Social Care and the need to make sure that the rural element is included.
Action – An RSN report be brought to the next meeting "reading across" the various sections of the SORS report and seeking to answer the "So What?" questions. The next Rural Sounding Board Survey would be designed around getting information and case studies to support the production of this report: ACTION RSN OFFICERS
Brexit – Mr Biggs provided a brief update on current discussions with other stakeholders and outlined agreed objectives. Members noted that a round table discussion was planned for June to see if sectorial interests have enough in common to take forward and build a national consensus on the work needed. There were concerns regarding regulations and quotas – particularly in the farming industry and difficulties in predetermining how money will be distributed. Members discussed current bureaucracy and concerns about more vulnerable areas where funding may be cut.
Results of the discussions will be on the next agenda.
David Inman (RSN) discussed problems of isolation and the importance of providing firm directions for dealing with these issues. Rural social care, health and vulnerability were key areas of concern and it was felt that this subject should be a constant item on future agendas.
Members noted the report and agreed the recommendation to create a vulnerability issues list which would feed into and link common issues with relevant bodies. It was agreed that the 2018 conference (at a special session before the Conference proper) should be used to bring together organisations such as citizens-advice, age uk etc. in order to discuss rural considerations and work together. Members also heard of plans to get a rural vulnerability day once a year in Westminster, engaging with Lords and MPs – starting in autumn this year. They agreed the importance of supporting other related schemes and noted that although there are lots of services available, there are issues around knowledge and accessibility.
Members noted the report.
Rural Panel and Rural Sounding Board – Members received the report from the Corporate Director which outlined aims for setting up a Board for dialogue and consultation within various sectors.
Members agreed to disseminate information in order to recruit interested parties. They noted Rural England have already approached University of Gloucestershire to try to enlist input from lay persons to federations of small businesses.
Action – RSN to circulate information leaflet to members in due course for distribution in order to enlist uptake.
Members noted the Lexington PLC Toolkit, attached to this item, which stated that in future, press releases should include a list of authorities in membership. The Executive had recently accepted the toolkit and had agreed to review future strategies and outcomes in a year's time.
Members noted the importance of getting all rural areas to work with the Rural Services Network in order to raise the budget required to be able to do more work. They noted challenges in recruiting and discussed opportunities for enlisting associate members. Members agreed to promote the Network as much as possible.
Members noted current budget figures and its entire dependence on payment of subscriptions. This does not allow a lot for contingency funding and so gaining popularity for the rural conference was important in order to encourage a bigger membership and therefore a bigger budget for RSN work.
Mr Wilson and Mr Biggs agreed to take forward and develop comments to be included in questions for a Sounding Board exercise this summer with the member and parish councils together with suggested case studies. would report further at the next meeting.
Members briefly discussed the feasibility of inviting relevant Ministers to future planned meetings but understood there were issues around timing, availability and location. Colleagues from RSN agreed to feature this in planning dates within the 2018/19 programme, but asked that the group note cases were being put forward to Ministers regardless of their attendance.
Cllr Owen Bierley, West Lindsey BC summarised the background to the initiative which addressed the importance of continuity of care in rural communities and availability of access no longer adequate for needs of patients. Recruiting and retaining GPs was difficult and the Government needed to address this. The obvious way forward would be to have a rural weighting allowance and he asked that members support the motion. The meeting was in unanimous support.
Mr Biggs confirmed that the RSN is supporting this campaign and recently contacted members regarding this issue and were hoping for positive responses.
Graham Biggs outlined future Rural Services Network Events. He asked colleagues to note that the theme for the Rural Conference, being held on 5/6 September in Cheltenham, had been changed to Rural Economy due to an event re Rural Health being held by LGA and Public Health England the week following the conference. Members noted the revised proposed agenda.
Feedback from the recent Rural Health Conference had been good with another hoped for next year. Although there had been a small loss after overheads it had been a good opportunity for networking.
Members noted arrangements for the Rural Housing Conference organised by the National Housing Federation to be held on 7 July in St Martin in the Fields, London. More details to follow in due course
The Group received verbal updates and discussed relevant issues around the various RSP Service Groups.- Housing-Transport-Crime- Fire- Health.
Any other Business – There was no other business and the meeting was closed.
The next meeting (SPARSE Rural) will be held on Monday 10 July – City of Westminster Archives Centre, London.It was hoped it would largely be in the form of a Seminar.
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