Examination of Witnesses (Questions 40
WEDNESDAY 21 NOVEMBER 2001
40. Do you agree it is not as bad as being impoverished
in a high-rise flat in the middle of South London?
(Mr Cameron) I would not like to comment on that.
(Ms Warhurst) All that I know is there are three million
people living in poverty in rural areas. This is not a competition
41. What I was asking is, are you dealing with
the problems being created by people moving out from the towns
and creating affluent villages and altering the social mix of
(Mr Cameron) We do not mind the affluence. People
bringing money into rural communities on the whole bring benefits.
But there is clearly a problem that society has to deal with with
for those who are suffering as a result, and affordable housing
is one glaring example of that. Planners, not unnaturally, do
not want to cover our countryside in houses. There is a limit
therefore. Most people in this nation actually seem to want to
live in the countryside and therefore there are market forces
at work and houses are more expensive in the countryside than
in towns. I believe that society for far too long has ignored
this particular problem. It has gone back over several decades
now, there is a huge shortage of affordable housing in rural villages.
42. If you compare the influence you have on
affordable housing in rural areas and the influence the Housing
Corporation has through its EDP, out of a scale of 100 how much
do the housing corporation have and how much do you have?
(Mr Cameron) The Housing Corporation obviously has
an overall view and looks at all the problems throughout the nation.
43. It provides the money.
(Mr Cameron) It provides money. Again, it is a question
of who influences who. I believe we were responsible for getting
their rural budget doubled in the Rural White Paper. I have been
very strong about the question of affordable housing ever since
I took on this job and I have spoken to various ministers over
the time on the question. I believe it is something that is a
glaring omission, and has been for some time, from the responsibility
(Mr Wakeford) Can I add on that point, it is not just
about money. Having the money to invest in rural affordable housing
is important, as is having money to invest in urban housing projects
to ensure that there is a reasonable slice of affordable housing.
There is a double difficulty in the countryside because of the
way in which the planning system is not operating in a way that
makes it easy to deliver affordable rural housing. We, therefore,
have a series of rural housing enablers who we have appointed
throughout rural England. We are building up a programme now that
will cover all of rural England following a very successful start
which has been evaluated. These are people at a local level who
are devilling out the sites that are needed if the Housing Corporation
is going to be able to deliver and turn the commitment that it
has made in terms of funds into practical projects on the ground.
Unless we do that, unless we ensure that as communities develop
they develop affordable housing as well as market housing, they
will become the sort of communities that are not the balanced
communities which it is the government's policy to secure.
44. Can I follow up this point, you described
very well at the start your lobbying role of moving and shaking
people in near gothic ivory towers like this, do you not think
you also have a role on the ground in terms of encouraging those
people to move out of urban areas and perhaps to use the services
on whose patronage they so significantly depend, the post offices
and the schools. A lot of people in rural areas choose to send
their kids into urban schools, what is your role there in influencing
their behaviour, because that can be as helpful as spending your
(Mr Cameron) I accept that. What we have tried to
do is epitomised in our schemes of village design statements,
which sound like NIMBYs charter village appraisals, is call a
meeting together. It is usually the NIMBYs, for want of a better
word, who turn up. They think they are coming to talk about pantiles
and stone walls and the first question you ask them is, what do
you want your village to be like in 20 years time? Do you want
your pubs still to be there? Do you want your village shop and
your primary school, and so on? You start them to think about
actually how the fabric of their community is going to be unless
they have an integrated community. Hopefully in that way, if they
then agree to a particular specification for a design statement,
you also get them to agree to the fact that they do need some
affordable housing within the village. They do need to have a
mixed community. If they can also add their design criteria to
the planning statement, as supplementary planning guidance, they
feel secure. So that when affordable housing units, two or three
units or five or six units, not very big, come along there is
not a knee-jerk reaction, shock, horror. They actually accept
it is a sort of process of trying to bring them along and facilitating
the thinking process. We do involve ourselves in that activity.
45. I am grateful for that reply. I cannot speak
for David Drew but I know we are two parish councillors, it is
just a comment, I would encourage you to work more closely and
more vigorously with parish and town councils, particularly in
their renewed form as envisaged in the government. There is an
awful lot that can be done using that mechanism
(Mr Cameron) I agree with that. Certainly within the
Rural White Paper we have been given the remit of encouraging
better parish governance and we have a community service grant
scheme and our Local Heritage Initiative also encourages communities
to get together to preserve something. It is all about encouraging
and integrating communities and making them think about what they
want and how they want to take that community forward.
46. Can I make a point which was referred to
several times already, which is the number of organisations you
work with, what should you be doing to reduce the number of organisations
that exist in rural Britain? That is one of the problems, there
are a raft of organisations out there, all fighting for funding
this year to keep themselves going again. If we can rationalise
who speaks for rural Britain it could only help. That must be
one of your key roles.
(Mr Cameron) It is quite difficult. Some
of the organisations are voluntary, some of them are charitable
organisations and some of them represent particular interests.
I dare say it is not really for us to say yea or nay as to whether
they should exist or not. Some of them are government or local
government organisations. All we can do is try to make certain
that people cooperate on the ground and work together and especially,
as far as we are concerned, involve the local people so they feel
they have a stake in what is happening within their community.
I am afraid we do not think we can take on a role in trying to
reduce the number of organisations.
47. But surely you could, by devolving down
through the parish and town councils, really make that the delivering
body? They could choose to use other organisations but the problem
isand this is where rural Britain is different from urban
Britainwe have got so many intermediaries in the process,
all supposedly helping with the allocation of funds, advice and
strategies. All that happens and by the time it gets down to the
level that should be doing the work, there is not a lot left.
(Mr Wakeford) As well as being Chief Executive of
the Countryside Agency I am also a trustee of a major charitable
trust in Gloucestershire where I sit as a trustee and we contribute
to local causes as a result of the generosity of Ron Summerfield
who set it up. When we sit there that is a picture that we have,
too. How do we know that we are making a difference. There is
a vast range of charitable trusts out there which people have
set up for distinct purposes. It occurred to us that it would
be much better if we either carved it up so that certain charitable
trusts focused on particular things or sought to merge, which
is almost impossible in the charity trust sector. We have to live
in a fragmented free market of charitable trusts. The difficulty
about trying to stitch it up into silos is that then you do not
get the joined-up approach. It seems to me one has to try and
forge partnerships. Perhaps in an ideal world there would not
be as many bodies as there are. Whether they are charitable trusts,
rural community councils or parish groups who are pursuing a parish
plan because the parish council in that particular area will not
do it, it is quite hard to set up a body and a great deal of energy
has gone into that and there was a need for that. The goal at
local government level through local strategic partnerships, and
at the regional level through the kind of regional arrangements
that are emerging more strongly in some regions than others, through
those sorts of partnerships between bodies one can assure that
the resources that are delivered are delivered in the most effective
48. Can I briefly touch on the point Eric made
earlier. I saw a book on Saturday produced in the village where
I was born and grew up and looking at the old school photographs,
of the 54 children on there, seven of them now live in the village.
One of the measures we probably do need to look at is the proportion
of young people who grow up in a village environment who then
have to move away. That does hinge on planning issues, the NIMBY
problem. Coming to your point as Chairman, can I ask what are
your major achievements to date? What benefits has your appointment
brought? I know it is a relatively short time.
(Mr Cameron) What have I brought personally through
my appointment as Chairman of the Countryside Agency?
Phil Sawford: As the rural advocate, what are
you most proud of thus far?
(Mr Cameron) Czars do not have a long life-span, I
agree. Let's go back to basic principles. The role of the rural
advocate, as I see it, is enlarging and underlining my role as
Chairman of the Countryside Agency. The Countryside Agency has
a role given to it in the Rural White Paper of rural proofing
the Government agenda across all departments and it has made contact
with all the departments across government and it has found out
what is on their agenda, what they are doing and produced a rural
proofing check-list which highlights some of the problems of bringing
policies and initiatives into the countryside, such as sparsity
of population, lack of training facilities, lack of transport
and so on. You would know them as well as I do. The rural advocate's
role is to check with Ministers. For instance, let me give you
an example. I do not think I am talking out of school. Last night
I went to see Nick Brown in the Department of Work and Pensions.
We talked about the roll out of Job Centre Plus and how they are
going to make certain that the merger of the Benefits Agency and
the old job centres is going to service rural areas. We spoke
about the Universal Bank. We spoke about how they are going to
roll out the pension service, the New Deal, and how they could
have an employment zone in rural areas. All these areas were discussed
and the main thing was actually having the Minister asking officials
"What are you doing about the countryside? How are you getting
this and that to work in the countryside?" It was a very
good example of the role of the rural advocate. In terms of a
major achievement, it may be that when foot and mouth disease
started, there was obviously, not unnaturally, a clear focus of
attention on the agricultural problems that foot and mouth was
causing. I spoke to the Prime Minister and went to see the Prime
Minister to tell him that it was a really serious across-the-board
rural problem. It was affecting a whole lot of tourist businesses
and other businesses in (our statistics have proved) a far greater
way than agriculture has been affected by foot and mouth. The
day of the meeting the Rural Task Force was set up. I feel having
the Rural Task Force has brought in all the different parties
of the countryside and ensured that the Government paid attention
to these other businesses. The Business Recovery Fund and the
rates relief and delay in payments of VAT and income tax all stemmed
from the Rural Task Force. That is an example of the rural advocate
50. So your role is very much to ensure that
rural issues are on the agenda and presumably to push them up
(Mr Cameron) Absolutely, to make certain that the
various departments are carrying out their responsibilities for
the countryside in everything they do. Sometimes it is what you
might call old initiatives which come along. For instance, there
is Sure Start, which is an initiative trying to help pre-school
children particularly from poor backgrounds prepare themselves
for school. The first two rounds of Sure Start, because of the
criteria, were almost entirely focused on urban populations. We
went and spoke to them and the third round was half-and-half and
the fourth round, I am pleased to say, is almost entirely rural
because we got the criteria changed and we got them to make certain
that it applied to rural areas. However, most of the work (like
yesterday) is dealing with developing policy and making sure that
developing policy takes into account the rural element.
51. Sooner or later we monitor this, which brings
me to the next point really. You committed yourself, I believe,
to producing an Annual Report on the progress of the Rural White
Paper. When do we get that?
(Mr Cameron) That will be coming out in the spring,
February/March time. I will take it first of all to the new Rural
Affairs Forum for England and also to the Cabinet Sub-Committee
on Rural Affairs. It will be published. I hope it will be an independent
report that will point the finger where necessary.
52. Some of the figures we heard earlier on
school closures and some of the other figures have stabilised,
and presumably there will be some good news stories within that
report as well as some problems and issues for the future?
(Mr Cameron) I would hope so and I would hope the
good news content will increase as we go on otherwise I might
feel I am not doing my job properly.
(Mr Wakeford) There are three reports here, the State
of the Countryside Report where each year we are seeking to measure
the state of the countryside against about 20 indicators, the
Rural Services Survey, which is going to be annual from now on,
and the report of the Countryside Agency's own work with government
departments and others to check whether they are rural proofing
and taking account of the rural dimension. Those three things
are the core of our work.
53. But if your purpose is to get involved at
the local level in all sorts of schemes, and some of them are
micro schemes, why have you got a staff sitting in Cheltenham?
Why are your people not distributed around district council offices,
small offices in the countryside. If somebody in Yorkshire wants
to get hold of you they have to phone Cheltenham.
(Mr Wakeford) No, we have 13 offices.
54. In your document Market Towns you
say: "The Agency will help to revitalise declining market
towns working in partnership with regional development agencies
and other partners." When I look at the addresses of where
you are, with possibly the exception of Penrith, you are firmly
urban based, Leeds, Birmingham, Nottingham, Cambridge, London,
Maidstone. Why are you not making a contribution as an Agency
to one of your objectives and, where appropriate, revitalising
market towns with these regional offices? Are they so big that
a market town could not accommodate them?
(Mr Wakeford) Our East Midlands office is in a market
town and plays an important part in developing the life of that
market town. In the main, though, we have placed our offices where
they can be most accessible for the whole of the region because
they are regional offices and if you put them in the more remote
market towns then it is much more difficult to serve the region
efficiently. I would need more staff in order to do that.
Mr Jack: Just give us a new hierarchy of market
towns, we all know that there are less remote market towns and,
bluntly, some of them for the types of people whom you serve would
be a deal more accessible than some of the locations which are
shown here. For example, I guess getting into Leeds from some
of the areas that Mr Curry's constituency covers would be a two-day
journey by pack horse for some people.
55. Especially with Arriva Trains.
(Mr Cameron) Would Skipton be any better?
56. Much better, Ripon even better!
(Mr Cameron) Mr Mitchell would then find it very difficult
to get there.
(Mr Wakeford) We cannot have offices everywhere because
we have teams of people in the region so they are working together.
They have to have a base. They have a base from which they can
serve all the areas around that they get to. The professional
people, the countryside officers spend time out of the offices.
They tend to go out to the areas we are talking about. When we
do our market town initiative in Malton, Yorkshire, David Gluck,
who is my senior countryside officer who is dealing with that,
will be going out from the Leeds office to get there. It is a
fact of life that if you are in the centre of Leeds that is the
easiest place to get in and out to from the whole region than
if you have to go in and out of a market town.
57. There has never been any attempt to locate
some of your work outside these urban areas?
(Mr Wakeford) Where our offices are based is not where
we are doing the work.
58. How are you going to persuade other people
to follow your objective "the Agency will help to revitalise
declining market towns . . ." You go on about the need to
bring professional work into those areas. Surely it is a question
of being seen to do things and creating an example that others
(Mr Wakeford) Two of our offices at least are in market
towns. Maidstone is probably a bit big to be a market town but
Bingam and Penrith are very definitely market towns and we have
two of our offices there. I also have to have an eye to the efficient
operation of this organisation and that means that when my staff
have a centre to come to it must be one that is pretty easily
accessible. In most of the regions that we are talking about,
the city is the place where you can get access from all parts
of the region and using public transport wherever possible.
59. We could go on about it but I want to look
a bit more closely at this rural proofing activity which you were
talking about to Mr Sawford a moment ago. How many government
departments are you in regular dialogue with? How does it work?
Do you have a feedback from the department who say to you "we
have got this new policy, will you give us a comment?" Or
do you proactively ring them up every week and say, "Hi guys,
how are you doing?" How does it work?
(Mr Cameron) We are in contact with all 11 government
departments, including the Lord Chancellor's Department, and we
have established a contact with them to ensure that they have
someone who is responsible for rural proofing their policies.
The rural proofing department in the Countryside Agency is in
regular contact with them. The rural proofing in the end has to
be carried out by the department themselves. What we are trying
to do is make certain they do the rural proofing because we cannot
know all the initiatives and all the activities that are going
on in all the departments across the board. They have to do that
and hopefully we can help them do that.