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Landmark Study Concludes - Rural Voice Must Be Heard Again

25th November 2007

Scotland's rural communities need to be given a louder voice and Scottish Government policies need to be properly "rural proofed", according to the findings of a new study published by Scotland's foremost consumer organisation.

The Rural Advocacy study was commissioned by the Scottish Consumer Council and brought together a cross section of organisations from the voluntary and public sectors. It set out to examine how people in rural communities could become more involved in influencing policy decisions that affect their lives.

The study concludes that the urban agenda is dominating Scottish policy and failing to allow for the fact that people in rural areas - both the Highlands and Island and the Scottish Lowlands - have a different set of concerns and priorities that are not being heard.

Amongst a series of recommendations, the report calls for funding and development for grass roots organisations that promote participation for people of all ages in rural communities. It also calls for a regional dimension to support local groups within any national Rural Development Plan network. The project was overseen by a steering group, chaired by Dame Barbara Kelly CBE who says the recommendations offer an opportunity to support a new and sustainable approach to rural policy based on the views of rural communities:"We believe that communities need to be actively supported to build capacity at local level to help articulate the rural voice to best effect. We are confident that supporting communities to ensure their views come through loud and clear will ensure that national policy can be enriched by the diverse views of all people living in Scotland. This report contains a series of recommendations on how this might be achieved."

Scottish Consumer Council Chair Douglas Sinclair says it is time for people in rural areas to have a strong voice in policy again: "Almost one million people live in rural Scotland and 280,000 of them live in remote rural Scotland. Since the demise of the Rural Forum in 1999, there hasn't been a unified body continually reminding government of its obligation to ensure every plan is "rural-proofed" - tested against the needs of nonurban communities where the priorities are different from towns and cities.

Our recommendations are about ensuring that the voices of young and old wherever they are in Scotland are heard consistently by policymakers."

The Recommendations
1. Rural communities in lowland Scotland should have access to levels of community development funding and support which are similar to what is available to communities in the Highlands and Islands. This would enable lowland communities to strengthen their delivery capacity, acquire community assets and contribute more to local economic

2. The Scottish Government should review the role of Communities Scotland in providing community development support in rural Scotland outside the Highlands and Islands. (see note below)

3. Local authorities, Community Planning Partnerships and other public bodies should take steps to involve communities in delivering services. This will require a review of procurement processes and new guidelines on best practice in community-based service delivery.

4. Promoting (training in) participatory techniques designed to involve the wider community can help group leaders to more successfully engage with the wider community, especially hard to reach groups. These approaches have been used for several years in rural areas in many countries.

5. Agencies should support and extend initiatives such as the Highland Youth Voice model to all of rural Scotland.

6. The Scottish Government should provide development funding for a grass-roots-based representative network of rural community groups. This network should be allowed to develop in a non-prescriptive way and invite other public or sectoral organisations to take part as required. Its focus would be on:
a. Sharing information and experiences;
b. Capacity building; and
c. Lobbying.

7. The proposed national rural network should also have a regional dimension to help it engage more flexibly and effectively with decisionmakers.

8. There is a need to strengthen and revitalise Community Councils across rural Scotland to make sure they have the capacity to consult and represent communities effectively. The Scottish Government should develop the role of community councils in consulting rural communities. This will require funding to support marketing and
outreach to under-represented groups.

9. The Scottish Government and Parliament should identify and consult on the key issues that affect rural communities. This should be in line with the agreed vision and involve all interest groups including the rural network recommended above. This should take place regularly and the Government should use it as a means of monitoring the effectiveness of rural-proofing.

10. There needs to be a robust and transparent approach to rural-proofing of policy based on clear targets and indicators. This has to be the responsibility of the Scottish Parliament.

11. The Scottish Government should make community planning more accountable to communities through setting targets for devolving resources to community level. Community Councils could take on a greater role in promoting accountability at community level.

12. Public sector agencies led by the Scottish Government should develop a joint funding stream that can support community service delivery in the long term. Funding would be delivered based on agreed output and delivery targets.

[Note: Recommendation 2 should be taken to apply to Communities Scotland
and its successor body or bodies.

Full Report


Scottish Consumer Council

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