In June 2010, the Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, announced that the Commission for Rural Communities would be abolished and that Defra Ministers would lead rural policy from within the Department.
The Government committed to ensuring their policies and programmes properly take account of the needs and the potential of rural residents, businesses and communities. The Government further set out its ambitions in a statement on 1 April 2011:
DEFRA’S ministerial team will act decisively to champion rural issues across Government. We are now supported in this by an enhanced Rural Communities Policy Unit (RCPU) which will operate as a centre of rural expertise, supporting and co-ordinating activity within and beyond DEFRA. The RCPU will play an important role in helping all Government Departments to ensure that their policies are effectively “rural proofed” before decisions are made.
Building upon the Department’s existing rural policy team, we have drawn in staff from the Commission for Rural Communities (CRC) and from other parts of Government to create the new unit. The RCPU’s immediate objectives are:
- To identify issues of critical importance to rural communities and then support, inform and influence the development and implementation of relevant Government policy so as to achieve fair, practical and affordable outcomes for rural residents, businesses and communities;
- To develop open and collaborative approaches to gathering information, evidence and potential solutions, working closely with the wide range of organisations which support and represent rural communities.
The RCPU will have a particular policy focus on Ministers’ stated rural priorities – housing, broadband, services, transport and fuel. In addition, DEFRA is responsible for a number of programmes designed to drive rural economic growth including delivery of the socio-economic elements of the RDPE, and the package of measures announced in the Rural Economic Growth Review.
DEFRA are also preparing a Government-wide Rural Statement, ‘intended to reaffirm the Government’s commitment to rural communities; outline how Government policies and programmes are already working for these communities; and explain what DEFRA is doing to promote rural needs and interests’.
This inquiry will focus on the work of the RCPU, its ability to act as rural champion in the heart of government, and its effectiveness in delivering rural development.
Evidence is sought on the following:
The approach of the Rural Communities Policy Unit:
- How effective has the RCPU been in engaging with rural communities?
- Has the RCPU done enough to ensure the voices of the hardest to reach can be heard?
- How effective has the RCPU been in engaging with other government departments, for example, providing challenge and ensuring policy is ‘rural proofed’?
- Should ‘rural proofing’ be subject to external review? How might this work?
- The RCPU is the Government’s ‘centre for rural expertise’. Is it sufficiently resourced to carry out this function?
- Is the RCPU transparent and open?
- How should the effectiveness of the RCPU be measured?
- Is there still a role for an independent Rural Advocate?
Rural grants and funding:
- How effective will the measures announced in the Rural Economy Growth Review be in stimulating sustainable growth in the rural economy?
- What other measures might the Government have used?
- How will uncertainty over the content and timetable for reform of Pillar II of CAP impact on the rural economy?
- The Government is preparing a Rural Policy Statement. What should be in it?
- Ministers’ stated rural priorities are housing, broadband, services, transport and fuel. Are these the correct priorities for the Government to focus on?
- If not, what others should the Government prioritise?
- Do the measures announced in DEFRA’s Uplands Review do enough to support sustainable hill farming?
The Committee invites all interested parties to address these and related matters in writing by Monday 3 September 2012.