PART 2 VIEWS OF WITNESSES
48. Many pleaded for
an investment in services, often citing the Rural Development
Commission's Survey of Rural Services
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
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).
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.
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
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
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,
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).
55. There was wide support
for taking a horizontal approach to rural development during transition.
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).
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
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
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).
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
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.
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-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
CLA p 47, ELO p 52, NFU p 242, T&G p 257. Back
These may be examined in Rural Developments, op.cit.. Back
"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
Q 207, pp 20-1, 47, 172, 243, 245. Back
pp 251-2, 275, 280. Back
pp 20, 48, 116-18, 174, 184-5, 219. Back
Action with Communities in Rural England Back