Defra urged to create 'rural proofing' forum

DEFRA has been urged to establish a special forum to share rural best practice across government.

The recommendation to develop the Rural Proofing Forum was made in a key report by Lord Ewen Cameron of Dillington.

Lord Cameron has been examining the way the government ensures its policies don't have a detrimental impact on rural communities.

His findings are contained in an Independent Rural Proofing Implementation Review published on Friday (30 January).

Setting up a rural proofing forum would help share best practice, information and key messages across government, he said.

The recommendation is significant because Lord Cameron is a former chairman of the now defunct Countryside Agency. He was also the government's rural advocate from 2000 to 2004.

There was a "renewed emphasis" on rural proofing at "very senior levels" in government, said the crossbench peer in his report. But this was not always the case at departmental level.

"Generally, I found that there was a good awareness of rural issues at Ministerial and senior official level," says the document.

"Departments seemed, however, genuinely unaware of the value of describing and commenting on the rural dimensions to their policy interventions."

Lord Cameron said he felt that several departments could improve their narrative and reputation for rural proofing.

"Quite often, it isn't that rural proofing isn't being undertaken, it is more often the case that it is not being clearly described in key policy documents."

Lord Cameron said he commended the reporting of rural proofing in key policy instruments and reporting mechanisms such as departmental annual reports and accounts.

But he added: "What I believe rural stakeholders really want is a more interactive forum to discuss rural proofing; a place to share evidence, best practice and discuss rural proofing issues and ideas."

Many rural stakeholders had enthusiastically embraced and regularly used social media, Lord Cameron continued.

"Defra should therefore provide an online forum for routine discussion on rural issues," he said.

It should do so by creating a place to describe best practice – at a local to national scale – and a means to test policy options during their design and implementation.

This would provide highlight what government departments were undertaking on rural issues, while providing a platform for discussion and to exchange ideas.

Responding to the report, DEFRA secretary Liz Truss said it was clear that "sensible and practical changes" would enable the government could mainstream rural issues within policy making.

Describing such a move as creating a "real game changer," she added: "I will give Lord Cameron's recommendations my full and considered attention."

Full details of the review can be seen here.


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