Rural England Stakeholder Group Meeting – 5 December 2016

Notes of Rural England Stakeholder Group meeting with UK Rural Policy and Practitioner Research Group

London 5 December 2016

Present:
Margaret Clark (ex CRC); Alison McLean (ex CRC); John Powell (CCRI); Jane Atterton (SRUC); Paul Milbourne (Cardiff Uni); David Inman (RE/RSN); Graham Biggs (RE/RSN); Andy Dean (RE); Jane Hart (RE); Jo Lavis (RE); Suzanne Crear (NFU); Anna Bradley-Dorman (NFWI)

Apologies: 
Brian Wilson (RE),Holly Jago (RE/Calor); Janet Dwyer (CCRI); Ruth McAreavey (UKRPPRG Convenors); Sarah Palmer (NFYFC); Keriesha Williams-Donaldson (UK Youth); Belinda Gordon (CPRE); Becky Hart (Calor); Tom Jones (LEP); Tony Armstrong (Locality); Lord Cameron of Dillington; David Webb (FSB); Christina Watson (UK Youth); Trevor Cherrett (TCPA); Hannah Pearce (Age uk); Angela Kitchin (Age UK); Richard Quallington (ACRE)

  1. Welcome and introduction

The Chair, Margaret Clark, opened the meeting at 1.30 p.m. and welcomed those attending.  Those present then gave brief introductions.

  1. Apologies were received – as listed above.
  2. The minutes of the Stakeholders meeting held on 7 November were agreed.
  3. The minutes of the joint UKRPPRG and Rural England stakeholders meeting held on 7 December 2016 were agreed subject to a minor change.
  4. Feedback from the pre-meeting of UKRPPRG conveners:

Graham Biggs reported that there had been a positive discussion about working better together and that it was intended to hold another meeting in February or March 2017.

It was noted that the re-structure of Local Government in Wales has not happened. The picture in England is even more confused than it was last year with devolution for major  cities seemingly still favoured, but only if they have elected mayors. Elsewhere there is an increasing number and variety of sometimes informal, sometimes formal, shared working arrangements between Local Authorities.

  1. Policy Update from Scotland

A policy update from Scotland included the 2nd Rural Parliament. This had resulted in Scottish Rural Actions, which runs the Rural Parliament, making 5 specific asks of Government.

The Rural Parliament is grass roots owned but it was observed that the ‘asks’ are not necessarily tied to deliverable outcomes and that the existing evidence base does not always facilitate progress monitoring.

The Scottish Rural Parliament Action Plan is expected to be published shortly.

It was noted that the urban: rural population split in Scotland is very similar to that in England.

An Island Bill is expected by the end of 2017 although it is not clear whether this might lead to a call for increased rural proofing.

Defra are leading a UK Civil Servants group looking at rural proofing.

  1. Presentation 1: Final evaluation of the Rural Development Programme for England 2007-2013 (Dr John Powell)

Axis I: Improving the competitiveness of the agricultural and forestry sector
Axis 2: Improving the environment and the countryside (this axis received about 80% of the total funding)
Axis 3: The quality of life in rural areas and diversification of the rural economy
Axis 4: Leader

Whilst the full report is not yet in the public domain the group was informed of some of the key findings of this research led by CCRI, and carried out in 3 regions (North West, South West and the East Midlands).

The research focused on axes 1 and 3 of the Rural Development Plan:

Difficulties were noted re evidencing cause and effect; the discontinuation of the RDA; and the lack of empirical studies of the benefits of environmental schemes. It was also challenging to access stakeholders and data for schemes carried out in 2007-10.

Broad conclusions included:

– Some 10,000 to 20,000 jobs were created or safeguarded which is lower than previous estimates.

– Economic benefits were fairly modest.

– Leader backed projects typically created a higher social return on capital than others.

  1. Presentation 2: Research on Migrant Workers in Rural Areas (by Professor Paul Milbourne, Cardiff University)

Prof Milbourne commented on the different attitudes to foreign workers in the agri-food sector. They are seen as crucial by employers who value their willingness to accept comparatively low wages, piece work and on zero hours contracts. Opposing views are that they depress local wages and decrease the number of locally available jobs. Notably there was a correlation between those areas with the highest levels of migrant workers and the vote in favour of Brexit.

Looking in detail at the Welsh meat processing sector the research found that migrant workers were often detached from the local community due to a variety of factors including limited language skills, anti-social working hours and the peripheral location of their employment. Human welfare in the food system seldom features in research.

The implications of Brexit are uncertain and subject to a number of possible influences including:

  • Top-down retailer pressure
  • Employer lobby for the status quo
  • Opportunities for producers to relocate
  • Value of the £
  • Potential re-localisation of agri-food.

In subsequent discussion the comment was made that in the bus industry migrant workers are often overqualified and actively choose the work because they do wish to interact with others.

Another observation was that often migrant labourers come from farming backgrounds and actively sought such work.

  1. Presentation 3: Analysis of characteristics of Scotland’s rural economies (by Dr Jane Atterton, Scotland’s Rural College)

Dr Atterton introduced the report “Rural Scotland in Focus 2016” which provides evidence and commentary on key rural topics.

Since the 2014 report there had been the Scottish election and the Brexit vote and the current context is one of uncertainty.

In the agricultural sector there is an identified need to improve technical efficiency, business viability and the vibrancy of the sector. Support is also needed for the younger generation. However uncertainty can discourage investment and lead to the postponement of long-term system changes.

Landownership types typically have different priorities and outcomes.

The forestry sector is very significant in Scotland, both in terms of forestry and timber and creating recreation and tourism opportunities. It provides employment to over 25,000 people and contributes almost 1bn to the economy.

Over 70% of the 51,000 rural businesses are outside the primary sector. These are often small and family based with 42% having no employees. These small businesses appear comparatively resilient with survival rates higher than in urban areas but other evidence is limited.

Looking forward there is a need for a rural strategy providing (i) a vision for rural Scotland, (ii) effective monitoring and evaluation of the impacts of national policies, and (iii) developing ways of measuring progress.

Presentations 3 can be viewed here.
Presentation 2 will be added to the website upon receipt.

The research report relating to Presentation 1 is expected to be available on the Defra website shortly.

Dates of next meetings

Agreed dates for next year:
– 6th February 2107
– 5th June 2017
– 6th November 2017
– 4th December 2017 (UKRPPRG and RE)

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