Select Committee on European Communities Eighteenth Report


Rural services

  48.    Many pleaded for an investment in services, often citing the Rural Development Commission's Survey of Rural Services[33] as indication of under-provision (Eg pp 17-18, 46-7), which relates not just to the closure of the village post office, shop, school, surgery or bus route, but also the under-provision of water, sewage, piped gas and modern telecommunications (pp 46-7). As far as telecommunications were concerned, the Rural Development Commission and council officers noted that while the country is well covered for basic telecommunications, modern ISDN facilities, vital for modern businesses, are sorely lacking (QQ 151, 270). A major obstacle to encouraging new industry is the cost of raising the standard of such infrastructure. Strutt & Parker's rural clients have to pay the upgrading fees themselves before entrepreneurial businesses are willing to consider moving into their premises.

  49.    Others argued that services such as public transport are provided at the level the market requires: that rural bus services do not exist where commuting car users form the basis of the village population. Strutt & Parker argued forcefully that services flourish where jobs precede them (Q 214). If there is a vital rural community with local industry, then the post office will flourish. The Rural Development Commission argued for temporary support to maintain services until sustained by demand, so as to attract business otherwise put off (Q 267). They argued for greater flexibility on the part of service providers, and noted a fruitful link between the Co-operative Bank and the Post Office (Q 247). Such co-operation could reduce the sparsity-exacerbated cost of providing services to rural areas.

  50.    Rural services have been much affected by migration. The United Kingdom Objective 5b Partnership noted that immigration by the retired, and emigration for education and employment by the young, altered communities from the perceived traditional model (p 276). No one however advocated a model to which we must aspire. The Rural Development Commission specifically said that there was no such thing (Q 248).

Rural communities

  51.    Social exclusion was a marked concern (pp 17-18, 172, 257). The United Kingdom has especially experienced immigration to rural areas (p 115). While the Rural Development Commission acknowledged that incomers brought much good (money, entrepreneurship), they also created a problem. If some rural areas are not to become dormitories for the affluent there is an urgent need for social housing (p 183, Q 174) in which to house those for whom jobs are created. "There is no point in having jobs if there is no local affordable housing" (RDC Q 267). To give three examples from our evidence which illustrate the need for affordable housing: a farmer who has to employ a labourer who travels 40 miles to work (Q 149), a shortage of rural firemen in Hampshire (Q 144), commuters passing each other in cars on the way to work, for example agricultural workers coming from the town and office workers coming from dormitory villages (p 277). A case was made not only for Community involvement but for a change in United Kingdom planning regulations. While PPG 7 was considered good for the task of economic diversification it was inadequate for guiding the provision of appropriate housing (QQ 143, 176).

Merging of urban and rural Objectives

  52.    Much concern was expressed at the inclusion, proposed in Agenda 2000, of both urban and rural areas into one, new targeted Objective 2. [34]The NFU argued that rural unemployment could not be measured by the same criteria as urban unemployment (p 237), and that current methods of compiling statistics would not adequately reveal areas where the transition to a competitive agriculture has most effect. The Rural Development Commission commented that the Community's rural statistics[35] were not useful enough in identifying regions in need of or suitable for development, and worse, that the criteria for the new, merged Objective 2 were unlikely to select many rural areas (Q 271, p 116). To illustrate this, the United Kingdom Objective 5b Partnership commented that levels of car ownership is a fallacious indicator of well-being in rural areas: percentage ownership may well be higher than for urban areas, but this is irrelevant if the main earner takes the car to work in the morning leaving other family members without transport. A car is a necessity in rural areas, not an indicator of affluence. Strutt & Parker noted that migration further obscured social indicators when applied to rural areas. For example, unemployment was often unnaturally low in rural areas because the young moved away for education and employment, and village services were less necessary for seemingly-affluent car owners (p 112). Several witnesses argued for a set percentage within the merged Objective to be designated as rural (Eg p 242).

  53.    The Rural Development Commission noted that with the proposed merging of Objectives the United Kingdom was likely to lose out. Less of England would be eligible for intensive European Community support and in the short term they expected little money for the new horizontal measure to be available in any case. There could also be a loss of focus with the transfer of their responsibilities to the proposed regional development agencies: the net result was firmly negative (Q 274).

Urban v. rural conflict

  54.    While not a central part of our enquiry, the potential conflict between urban and rural areas was much on our witnesses' minds. This had been made topical by the White Paper on regional development agencies[36], by the debate on the need to provide 4,400,000 new households and by the Countryside March held on 1 March. Many supported English Heritage in saying that the best way to protect the countryside was to make existing towns better places in which to live (p 214). The local government officers assured us they were trying to do so (Q 150). Action with Communities in Rural England (ACRE) noted that rural problems can no longer be examined in isolation and cited transport around Bristol as a case in point (pp 172-3). Bristol's urban traffic problems could not be considered without taking into account the needs of the large number of commuters into the city from rural areas. FWAG considered that if rural environmental public goods were to be paid for from the public purse then policy must take account of urban values (p 227). While supporting this, Mr Merricks forcefully drew our attention to the ignorance of many urban users of the countryside (Q 72), and noted that much of the urban vision was based on perception rather than fact or experience (p 29).

Horizontal availability

  55.    There was wide support for taking a horizontal approach to rural development during transition[37]. The CLA rejected the "arbitrary constraints" of the rural structural fund Objectives (p 47), and noted that during the transition period the agriculturally high quality areas may suffer as much as the marginal areas; more importantly the opportunities for diversification were often better in the agriculturally superior areas. Thus for successful diversification a geographically flexible approach to targeting was needed (Q 106).

FEOGA (European Agricultural Guidance and Guarantee Fund)

  56.    Some witnesses expressed reservation at the use of the FEOGA Guarantee Fund to fund the new horizontal measure: not only were the funds available at present small, but the fund's rules limited it to on-farm development. The Rural Development Commission were concerned that development should focus on broader economic and social goals and not be limited to agriculture and the farmer (Q 275, p 116). It also commented that if the policy is to be for transition then the use of FEOGA was not appropriate: what was needed was a large amount of money for a short time. Highlands and Islands Enterprise were concerned that DG VI naturally focused on the guarantee side of FEOGA and thus did not best serve the rural community as the guarantee side is specifically concerned with agriculture rather than the wider rural community.

Administration in the United Kingdom

  57.    Concern was expressed by witnesses at the absorption of at least part of the Rural Development Commission into the proposed Regional Development Agencies. While some witnesses demonstrated caution towards regional development agencies, there were many calls for streamlined administration[38] and so long as there was adequate rural focus some felt that regional development agencies would be appropriate to the task of development (p 18). Strutt & Parker argued forcefully in favour of the Rural Development Commission (Q 225), saying that an urban authority would be by no means as effective in encouraging rural development (Q 234). The RICS and NFU were concerned that needy rural areas could be overlooked were there not a national overview by a body such as the Rural Development Commission (pp 243, 251). The United Kingdom Objective 5b Partnership reiterated this by saying that some issues needed a national approach, for example inward investment (p 275). The RSPB noted that local support often gave projects a necessary dynamism, but were concerned that national government should be involved to ensure that national priorities were achieved (p 20).

  58.    Professor Buckwell made the point that the poorest localities were often found to be lacking in initiative, and so required outside assistance (Q 23) as demonstrated by the poorest regions not applying for the funds currently available to them. Professor von Urff agreed and considered the problem heightened by able localities designing projects to capture the available funds (Q 348). The problem was also recognised by the NFU, who noted that development opportunities were not evenly distributed across the kingdom (p 235).

Enabling schemes

  59.    The greatest problem with the current approach was the proliferation of schemes and funding bodies. The RICS pleaded for simplification to one, simple menu of programmes (p 251). The Rural Development Commission agreed and, while advocating a menu approach (p 116), were concerned that the menu must be as flexible as possible, more so than currently, as otherwise applications would continue to be made for inappropriate (or worse unnecessary) support (Q 256). The Young Farmers were among many who noted that where schemes were too prescriptive projects were made to fit the funds available rather than the funds being targeted at the needs of the area (p 245).

Private sector involvement

  60.    Strutt & Parker noted that while farmers might conceive new uses for their buildings they were unlikely to be successful in running them (Q 214). This was supported by the Rural Development Commission (QQ 264-5). The most successful ventures would be independent entrepreneurs not linked other than initially to public funding (Q 237). The public sector had a role in attracting enterprise to rural areas. The Rural Development Commission noted however that it was difficult to persuade private firms to sit on its committees (Q 260). The NFU called for private enterprise to be involved in Objective 5b schemes (pp 236, 238).

  61.    The United Kingdom Objective 5b Partnership agreed with many who advocated private sector involvement (Eg RICS p 251). They argued however that public funds had to be available to make rural locations at least as attractive as urban premises-assistance was needed to convert buildings to suitable business premises (p 277). Strutt & Parker's experience was that at present this had to be done at the landlord's expense and, while citing examples of success, noted that such resources were only available on large estates. The scale of work required, particularly when extended to, for example, the provision of mains drainage, could prove very costly (QQ 216, 225, p 277).


  62.    The Countryside Commission commended the LEADER scheme (one of DG VI's rural development programmes), especially how it worked in Austria and in Italy (p 188). The Rural Development Commission noted that LEADER is only available in Objective 5b areas and that after the Agenda 2000 reforms less of the United Kingdom would be eligible for such funding (p 116). In their opinion, a scheme such as LEADER ought to be available in the new horizontal measure (pp 116-17). There was criticism of LEADER's bureaucracy in relation to the way it works in the United Kingdom[39]. For all the enthusiasm of local communities, there were serious problems. These did not invalidate its approach, but necessitated a rethink. It was not sensible that three different government departments administered its funds and the application and review processes were unduly bureaucratic and complex-so much so that the funds are underspent (pp 184-85, 219), tiny though they are (p 48). ACRE[40]-involved in LEADER projects-found the process, especially its lack of network support, demoralising (p 174). Scottish National Heritage drew attention to the failing that LEADER does not reconcile national (or even regional) with local priorities (p 264). The CLA considered that local authorities, not currently involved in LEADER, should be involved so that local priorities were better analysed and tackled (Q 109). The Rural Development Commission considered LEADER could learn from their Rural Strategies scheme (p 118).

33   The Rural Development Commission publishes a triennial survey of rural areas (Q 247) which shows trends in, for example, rural services and housing. The latest edition is that published 11 February 1998. Back

34   CLA p 47, ELO p 52, NFU p 242, T&G p 257. Back

35   These may be examined in Rural Developments, op.cit.. Back

36   "Building Partnerships for Prosperity: Sustainable growth, competitiveness and employment in the English regions" presented to Parliament by the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions by Command of Her Majesty, 3 December 1997 (Cm 3814). Back

37   Q 207, pp 20-1, 47, 172, 243, 245. Back

38   pp 251-2, 275, 280. Back

39   pp 20, 48, 116-18, 174, 184-5, 219. Back

40   Action with Communities in Rural England Back

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