William Eichler 29 April 2019

Peers call for strategies to develop ‘under-performing’ rural areas

Local authorities should develop their own strategies for realising the ‘potential in struggling and under-performing’ rural areas, a House of Lords committee has said.

The House of Lords Select Committee on the Rural Economy called on the Government over the weekend to develop a rural strategy and help realise the potential of rural economies.

The Government needs to ‘rethink and reform’ the rural proofing process to ensure that relevant policies and legislation are attuned to the needs of rural communities and economies, the committee said.

It also advised that councils develop their own strategies, in line with Government guidance, for developing rural economies and that they should be accountable for their implementation.

The report also emphasised the importance of delivering these strategies using a place-based approach. This must include effective partnership working from all relevant public, private and voluntary bodies.

The Government must bring forward the consultation on the Shared Prosperity Fund ‘as soon as possible’ to help local areas plan for a possible future outside the EU, the report argued.

The Fair Funding Review must also ensure that rural local authorities are properly compensated for the additional costs of service provision, and that rural areas are fairly treated in future funding settlements.

The House of Lords committee recommended that the Government should consider suspending the local authority Right to Buy or making it voluntary for local authorities in specific locations.

It also advised the Government to undertake a full review of funding streams to rural public transport. The aspiration should be to develop a ‘single transport investment pot’ that could be used to better support rural transport using a place-based approach.

‘Rural communities and the economies in them have been ignored and underrated for too long,’ the chair of the committee, Lord Foster of Bath, said.

‘We must act now to reverse this trend, but we can no longer allow the clear inequalities between the urban and rural to continue unchecked.

‘A rural strategy would address challenges and realise potential in struggling and under-performing areas, and allow vibrant and thriving areas to develop further. Doing nothing is not an option.’

Rural Services Network chief executive, Graham Biggs, welcomed the report and said it reflected ‘the many service and social issues which need to be addressed in rural areas.’

‘In particular we are very pleased to see the report call for rural councils to receive a fair share of national resources for the delivery of local government services to address “the additional costs of service delivery” in these areas – this something the RSN has been calling for over the past 10 years and more.’

‘We, along with many other rural organisations, hope that Government will rise to the challenge of producing a Rural Strategy for England, and to unlocking the huge potential of rural areas; not just in terms of economic benefits, but also embracing the scope for genuinely inclusive growth and equitable service provision,’ Mr Biggs added.

Commenting on the report, the chief executive of Campaign for Better Transport, Darren Shirley, said: ‘This report should offer hope to rural communities that their suffering from dwindling public transport hasn't gone unnoticed.

‘The Government should act swiftly on the committee's recommendations and fully review rural public transport funding for the Spending Review to deal with the appalling state of rural transport.’

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