UK Rural Policy and Practitioners Group Meeting – 7 December 2015

The meeting was attended by:

Ellie Brodie- Scotland’s Rural College
Janet Dwyer- CCRI, University of Gloucestershire
Paul Milbourne- University of Cardiff
Graham Biggs, Brian Wilson, David Inman, Jane Hart- Rural England

Apologies were received from Ruth McAreavey (Queen’s University Belfast)

The meeting took place at the IEEP Offices in Belgrave Road, a venue kindly arranged by Janet Dwyer. It commenced a little after 11.30 and was chaired by David Inman.

David Inman began by explaining the distinct roles of RSN and Rural England, outlined the objectives and funding of Rural England CIC, and described the function and composition of the stakeholder group. He advised that, subject to funding, Rural England research would aim to tackle a specialist topic every 2 years and monitor a selection of key rural services.  He suggested that the UKRPPG would fit well with the objectives of Rural England.

Those present then outlined their Government’s rural policy.

Paul Milbourne said that the Wales Observatory closed in 2014 and that Welsh Government funding for research is now, it appeared, on a project by project basis although the provision of technical assistance remains in the RDP. The National Rural Network is run by Defra.

Ellie Brodie advised that a new 5 year research programme is expected in March 2016. They had tried to get funding for a rural observatory but were unsuccessful. The first meeting of the Rural Parliament took place last year -although Government funded (approx. £200K) it is a civil society organisation. Another Rural Parliament next year is expected to call for rural outcomes and indicators that sit outside government.  Rural issues are considered to have a higher profile in Scotland and notably Nicola Sturgeon attended the rural summit.

David Inman said that Defra appeared to have little enthusiasm for rural policy and commented that Defra Ministers had declined to attend the Rural Conference. Janet Dwyer commented that the only rural Defra obligation is to the National Rural Network evaluating the RDP. Whilst rural is seemingly largely invisible at Government level and there is no holistic rural agenda there are individual MPs, such as Rory Stewart, who are very interested in rural.

The group then discussed concerns and uncertainties around devolution and decentralisation. Some concern was expressed about the lack of transparency about city regions.

The group then discussed its future role. Brian Wilson commented that the group is a useful network to understand what is going on in each country but has potential to do more. Paul Milbourne expressed the view that there would be benefits in closer interaction and the sharing of resources between Universities and practitioners at RSN/Rural England.   This was especially so as austerity is cutting research and policy work in Local Authorities. Academics needed to demonstrate “pathways to impact” and find dissemination channels.  Other opportunities raised included: survey opportunities through RSN; better knowledge of current research; improved networking; dissemination of research. The possibility of applying for an ESRC grant to provide some research back-up was also raised.

The group agreed that:

  • There should be one face-to-face meeting a year, and two or three others by Skype, with collective responsibility for providing content.
  • Research needs to be added to the group’s title – UK Rural Policy Practitioners and Research Group (UKRPPRG).
  • There was not thought to be a need for a web site but retaining a web page, preferably still hosted by Scotland’s Rural College would be beneficial.

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