Results of Independent Review of Rural Proofing Released

On Friday 30th January, Defra released a report on the Independent Rural Proofing Implementation Review 2015 led by Lord Cameron of Dillington with a group of 7 other peers and MPs. The document provides an insight into the way in which rural issues are incorporated into Government policy, the identification of the factors which currently act inhibit the identification and inclusion of rural issues and a set of corresponding recommendations which seek to resolve these or improve the overall scenario.

The document highlights that the way in which Government Departments approach ‘rural proofing’ varies widely, with each taking its own position on the way in which rural needs are identified or measured, incorporated into policy and delivery mechanisms and monitored to determine their effectiveness in delivering equitably to both rural and urban areas.

Different approaches inevitably lead to variation in the importance ascribed to rural issues, but perhaps more importantly the different methods of the gathering and utilising evidence with an appropriate spatial breakdown can prevent a thorough understanding of rural issues and needs from ever being developed. Where this is the case, it can be very difficult to introduce an understanding of rural issues once a policy has been adopted and commenced delivery.

The recommendations to the report are as follows:

Recommendation 1 – Defra Ministers should work with Cabinet Office to strengthen and improve rural proofing guidance when the impact of policies is being assessed, to ensure that rural policy impacts are given clear and robust attention. Rural Proofing must be applied more systematically in Departments and described more openly and transparently.

Supplementary action to support recommendation 1 – all departments to routinely invite Defra’s RCPU to run a rural proofing workshop to improve awareness, highlight the data and evidence available that can be examined on an urban/rural basis and bring policy teams together with their analysts to explore the policy problems and appropriate interventions.

Recommendation 2 – Defra Ministers should establish an Inter-Departmental Rural Oversight Group, it would bring together all the main departments, at a senior level, to discuss particular/topical rural issues and identify where policies or delivery could be adjusted.

Recommendation 3 – Defra, with support and input from other government departments, to develop a Rural Proofing Forum. Working closely with the inter-Departmental Rural Oversight Group to share best practice, information and key messages across government.

Recommendation 4 – All government departments should adopt the use of Office of National Statistics and government-de urban/rural classifications in their analyses of data and evidence. With support from Defra on statistical analyses as required.

Recommendation 5 – I would like to see a clear rural proofing stage built into the collective agreement processes so that departments will have to explain their rural proofing measures in their policy considerations. Departments will have to take rural proofing seriously earlier in the policy process if they want to avoid delays in the clearance process. Working together with Recommendation 1, this additional consideration will incentivise Government officials to ensure they mainstream rural issues early on in the policy process.

Recommendation 6 – I would like to see the creation of a permanent forum for discussion of rural proofing, at Cabinet level, which could intervene consistently and at key decision points as policy is being developed and encourage interdepartmental cooperation to assist in the delivery of those policies.

This approach would overcome the ‘tick box’ culture in some departments which has led to a lack of understanding of rural proofing identified in the review. It would also encourage evidence on rural impacts to be mainstreamed into policy decisions and foster transparent discussion on rural proofing e.g. for the departmental annual reports, accounts and impact assessments, all of which require rural reporting. By taking this step, all Government departments will be better able to understand rural issues, use rural data more routinely and test their policies early on in their development.

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