Notes of Rural England Supporters Meeting held on 30 April 2019

CLA, 16 Belgrave Square, London.

Present:

Jo Giles (Cadent); Emma Merritt (SSEN); Jasmin Myhill (SSEN); Rachel Shorney (SP Energy Networks); Ash Roberts (Yorkshire Water); Fraser White (SPEN); James Penn (SPEN); Helen Wood (S.E. Water); Amanda Phillips (UU) : Graham Biggs (RE); David Inman (RE); Brian Wilson (RE); Jane Hart (RE).

Apologies:

Tom Walsh (SPEN); Kendal Adams (SPEN); Doug Stewart (Green Energy); Andy Clowes (S.E. Water); Rosemary Waugh (Thames Water); Louise Murtagh (Scottish Power); Kate Robbins (Wessex Water); Simon O’Loughlin (SSEN); Andy Griffiths (SSEN); Phil Burrows (Cadent); Ken Jones (Crown Estate); Liv Johnson (Thames Water); Sheila Bowdery (S.E. Water); Hayley Tranter (Cadent).

– Presentation 1 – Rural England Work in 2018/19
– Presentation 2 – SORS 18 Launch Presentation
– Presentation 3 – Rural Fuel Poverty

Brian Wilson opened the meeting at 11.30 a.m. and welcomed attendees. He first thanked all supporters, and emphasised that “we can’t do what we do without you”, then outlined the programme for the day.

Brian Wilson opened the meeting at 11.30 a.m. and welcomed attendees. He first thanked all supporters, and emphasised that “we can’t do what we do without you”, then outlined the programme for the day.

Brian summarised the structure of Rural England CIC and explained its core functions of providing rural evidence; sharing information, and stimulating debate. He emphasised that Rural England (RE) is independent and not a lobbying organisation.

Projects undertaken in 2018/19 included:

  • State of Rural Services (SORS) report
  • Short report on Rural Fuel Poverty
  • Opinion survey relating to housing issues (with research partner CCRI)
  • Challenges facing rural16-18 years olds in accessing education and work based learning (ongoing)

In addition RE held a ‘Vulnerability Day’ at Parliament; submitted evidence to both the Rural Health and Social Care Inquiry and the House of Lords Inquiry on the Rural Economy; and responded to consultations such as the one on cash availability. It has achieved extensive media coverage for its work, especially SORS.  In addition it holds meeting of rural academics which facilitates learning from their research activities across the UK.

Some of the key findings from the Housing Survey findings were reported (see presentation 1).

There was then a short discussion regarding Vulnerability Day at which Rural England CIC strives to highlight specific rural issues of concern. There is also a determination, by RSN, to increase the profile of important rural issues through the Rural Vulnerability Group of MPs and Peers.

Often good work undertaken in rural areas does not achieve the attention that it merits and both RE and the Rural Services Network (RSN), with which RE maintains strong links, have important roles in disseminating information and good practice. In this context, Graham mentioned that people outside the utilities are largely unaware of the work done in relationship to vulnerable customers and the potential for RSN and RE to help spread those messages.

In discussion, it was suggested that an evening dinner (which each of the Utility Supporters might be prepared to contribute circa £2000 for a “table”) might be considered for MPs. It was felt that such an event could prove a beneficial opportunity for senior managers to engage with MPs. The group was told of a successful dinner event held in Wales. Graham agreed to get costings.

Brian outlined work planned for 2019/20 which includes completion of the research on 16-18 access to education and apprenticeships; a further research topic (to be decided at the next Stakeholders meeting); Vulnerability Day 2020; and further development of the Rural Panel (with CCRI). Graham added that in future SORS reports would be produced at 3 yearly intervals and, in the “gap year”  a report(s) on the  ‘so what?’ considerations could be produced as well as updating data and trends, and identifying gaps in available information.

Brian gave a summary of the key points arising from the last SORS and Jane Hart briefly outlined the fuel poverty findings and some key points emerging from the current research work relating to 16-18s. Please see presentations 1, 2 and 3.

Afternoon session

Jo Giles outlined the progress that energy and water companies are making towards a ‘one registration system’ for the Priority Service Register (PSR). Adhering to an agreed set of principles and giving a consistent message has been very important in this process, particularly so as company staff have a trusted position in gaining access to people’s homes. At present energy companies can, with customer consents, take registrations, keep that information and share it across the energy sector.

Customer feedback has been very positive and there is ambition to extend the scheme to create an energy company and water companies protocol. The Information Commissioners are supportive and GDPR is not seen as an insurmountable obstacle.

There is huge potential for a variety of groups and organisations to publicise PSRs and increase the public’s awareness and confidence. One example given was of close working with ‘Kidney Care’. In that context David Inman mentioned the potential assistance of RSN’s extensive networks and also the potential benefits of joining the Rural Services Partnership1 (RSP) and the Rural Heath and Care Alliance (which could be offered in a package as a reasonably priced extension to the £500 RE Support Fee).

It was noted that RSN is actively promoting the need for a rural strategy and the input of RSP organisations is most welcome.

In discussion, Jo was asked whether PSR uptake is better or worse in rural areas. She advised that take-up is patchy with significant regional differences, so rural uptake varies too.

The group was told that water companies also have gaps in information on their vulnerable customers and that people with transient/ temporary vulnerability can be particularly difficult to engage. Asking relevant questions such as “what would you do if the water went off?” can help and it is necessary to realise that there may be rural and urban differences in customers’ abilities to respond to emergencies e.g. in an urban area households may be able to buy bottled water from a nearby supermarket but that would be much more difficult/impossible in rural areas.

David thought rural customers would often be particularly vulnerable due to poor and decreasing public transport; services and facilities centralising in more distant locations; and the ageing population (particularly the increasing number and percentage of people aged 85+). Jo was thanked for her informative presentation and the meeting ended at approx. 2.50 p.m.