An independent review of the Government’s approach to ‘rural proofing’ policy has been welcomed by leading rural network ACRE (Action with Communities in Rural England).
The review, conducted by Lord Cameron of Dillington, makes a series of recommendations, including setting up a new Rural Proofing Forum at Cabinet level.
ACRE said that, if implemented, the recommendations would go a long way to ensuring the impact of policies on rural residents was considered at the heart of government.
However, the charity added that the Government needed to continue its dialogue with rural stakeholders to ensure the voices of rural communities were heard.
Chief executive Janice Banks, who contributed to the review, said it was wholeheartedly welcomed by ACRE, the national voice for England’s network of rural community councils.
The ACRE Network has a long history of working with Defra’s Rural Communities Policy Unit, helping it to gauge how national policies will play out in a rural setting.
Ms Banks said: “We welcome the full range of recommendations set out by the review team. There is no doubt that rural proofing can and should enable policies to be developed that impact positively on both urban and rural communities.
“Rural communities have a legacy of resilience and self-support, and will always make the best of the opportunities afforded them. However, whilst the issues faced in rural areas are largely the same as faced by urban, the solutions and policy interventions can often be very different.
“Ensuring rural proofing is undertaken at an early stage in policy development means that work is completed more quickly and robustly, enabling the benefits to impact positively across all areas when the policy is implemented.
“Therefore, we very much agree with Lord Cameron that there is a clear opportunity for rural proofing to be applied more systematically in Government departments.
“We also welcome the establishment of an Inter-Departmental Rural Oversight group which would underpin the benefits of early consideration of impact in rural areas.
“We would also endorse the recommendation for the creation of a permanent forum for discussion of rural proofing, at Cabinet level. This would ensure that rural proofing and all the benefits it brings are at the heart of the government, giving more confidence to the complete process.”
Lord Cameron is also recommending an interactive, online rural proofing forum that would allow stakeholders to contribute to policy development, which would create a place to describe best practice, share evidence and discuss ideas.
Ms Banks said: “While we welcome any new forum for the discussion of ideas, policymakers need to continue meeting with rural organisations to make sure they have a detailed understanding of what is happening at the grass roots.
“The ACRE Network has an unrivalled reach into 52,000 organisations in 11,000 rural communities. We would very much welcome conversations with Government departments on how we can continue to assist with rural proofing, bringing to the table our 90 years of experience in assessing the impact of policies.”