Rural England Stakeholder Group meeting with the UKRPPRG – 16th January 2020

16th January 2020 at the Warwick Business School suite, The Shard, London
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Present: Margaret Clark (Chair); Brian Wilson (Rural England CIC); Professor Janet Dwyer (CCRI); Dr Jayne Glass (Scotland’s Rural College); Dr Daniel Keech (CCRI); Professor Mark Shucksmith (University of Newcastle); Professor Martin Phillips (University of Leicester);Professor Stephen Roper (Warwick Business School); Dr Rebecca Wheeler (University of Exeter); Dr Steve Emery (Rural England CIC and University of Birmingham); Graham Biggs (Rural England CIC); David Inman (Rural England CIC);Jane Hart (Rural England CIC); Trevor Cherrett (TCPA); Amy Corbett (NFU); Jeremy Leggett (ACRE); James Alcock (Plunket Foundation);  Graeme Willis (CPRE); Polly Gibb (WIRE); Sally Kingman (NFWI); Chris Cowcher (Rural England CIC); Derek Egan (Defra); Rev Claire Maxim (Germinate, ARC); Claire Saunders (Prince’s Countryside Fund); Katie Ramsey (CLA)

Apologies: Dr Gary Bosworth (University of Lincoln); Professor Michael Woods (Aberystwyth University); Professor Jeremy Phillipson (University of Newcastle); Richard Quallington (ACRE)

The Chair opened the meeting at 1.00 pm and welcomed those present. This was followed by short introductions.

National Innovation Centre for Rural Enterprise (NICRE)

The group was advised of this joint research proposal from the University of Newcastle, University of Gloucestershire (CCRI plus Royal Agricultural University) and Warwick University to set up a National Innovation Centre for Rural Enterprise. A bid had been made to Research England and the formal outcome of this should be known soon.

Feedback from the earlier meeting of UK RPPRG/HEI sector

Brian Wilson explained that the group had previously included just one representative from each of the home (UK) nations, but this time invitations had been extended to a wider group of academics with a known rural interest.  This format had proven interesting.

The morning meeting had included discussion about:

  • Rural data availability and limitations, and identifying what new data is needed;
  • Difficulties in finding out what rural research is taking place elsewhere;
  • The desirability of reaching more policy practitioners with research findings.

Going forward there was felt to be some value in holding occasional meetings with the HEI sector and widening the invitation list further still. Although resources were tightly constrained, it may be possible for Rural England CIC (RE) to provide a page on its website where researchers can include a paragraph about ongoing and recent research.  It may also be possible to enable some facility for group members to pose questions to each other e.g. about available research on a topic.

The Chair then introduced the three main presenters in turn.

Presentation 1: The dynamics of poverty in rural Britain

Professor Mark Shucksmith (University of Newcastle)

This research analysed longitudinal data about households for the period 1991-2008.  Key findings included:

  • In 2016/17 the proportion of households in relative poverty (defined as less than 60% of median income) in 2016/17 was slightly lower in rural England (16%) than in urban England (18%).  This urban-rural difference is less pronounced than many would think;
  • Between 1991 and 2008 over half of households in both urban and rural areas experienced relative poverty at some point;
  • Spells in poverty can last for very different periods of time.  Most spells of rural poverty were found to be short lived;
  • However, rural households that manage to climb out of poverty are more likely to fall back into poverty than their urban counterparts;
  • Poverty whilst in work or self-employment and financial vulnerability were all found to be proportionally higher in rural areas;
  • From 1997 reforms to welfare benefits reduced the proportion of households in poverty (especially the elderly).  This reduction in poverty was most marked in rural areas;
  • Other factors, such as a long spell of economic growth in the late 1990s/early 2000s probably also played a part in the poverty reduction.

From questions afterwards it was established that longitudinal data exists for the period after 2008, so a similar analysis was, in principle, possible if resources existed.

– This presentation can be viewed by clicking here

– A briefing note on rural disadvantage by the author can be accessed here

Presentation 2: The LEADER programme in Scotland

Dr Jayne Glass (Scotland’s Rural College)

This research, carried out for the Scottish Government, looked at the evolution and impact of the LEADER programme since the early 1990s. The approach drew on international evidence, data analysis, stakeholder discussions and case studies. Key finding included:

  • LEADER areas have received widely differing budget levels (per capita);
  • Over time the minimum grant threshold and the average size of project grants increased;
  • Although there are differing opinions, the research concludes that LEADER can be seen as broadly successful as a rural development initiative;
  • However, measuring its impacts and outcomes over time has proved to be a significant challenge;
  • Strengths included: the bottom up and empowering model; that it builds local resilience; and it supports local capacity building;
  • Negatives included: the (increasing) complexity of the programme and its burdensome bureaucracy;
  • The findings suggest any successor programme could usefully retain a bottom up approach, be more flexible and creative (freedom to fail), simplify administrative processes, offer tiered grants and allow more time for animation.  Having a dedicated rural programme had advantages.

– This presentation can be viewed by clicking here

Presentation 3: Dependencies and interactions between rural, urban and peri-urban areas

Dr Daniel Keech (CCRI, University of Gloucestershire)

This ongoing research was being carried out under the EU ROBUST project on Unlocking Rural-Urban Synergies. The project involves Councils, Municipalities and Authorities from 11 European countries and explores how rural and urban areas are synergistically linked, how that relates to local governance arrangements and what opportunities or challenges exist. CCRI are responsible for the England contribution, which looks at Gloucestershire. The method employs Communities of Practice (thematic case studies) and Living Labs (place-based case studies).

Examples were given of:

  • The Gloucestershire Food Lab: co-innovation between the University of Gloucestershire and Gloucestershire County Council, experimenting with school food contracts and developing business models to encourage use of locally sourced food;
  • Regionalising Natural Flood Management (NFM): involving agencies who are experimenting with rural-urban flood risk interventions and establishing a new NFM network with a funded programme.

The research acknowledges both that positive and negative relationships often arise between practice and research partners, and between Living Lab teams and local stakeholders. Living Labs can be seen as a helpful way to inform governance decisions, though it was emphasised statutory bodies e.g. the County Council, would remain in control of the decision making.

– This presentation can be viewed by clicking here


There was a short discussion about the selective use of positive case studies in research, generally, and the absence of information about communities that don’t have capacity or get left behind. Learning from policy failure is a rarity. The Plunkett Foundation added that they are trying to set up funding for different forms of community action in low uptake areas or ‘not spots’.

The presenters were thanked, as were Warwick Business School for the venue.