Guidance for policy officials in government and local level policy makers to support the needs of rural people, communities and businesses.

Introduction: What is Rural proofing?

Rural proofing is integral to the policy making cycle. It requires us to make sure that the needs and interests of rural people, communities and businesses in England are properly considered. This applies to the development and implementation of all policies and programmes. For central government, rural proofing means assessing policy options to be sure we get the fairest solutions in rural areas.

In the summer of 2013 we published new guidelines to help and support all departments in their rural proofing efforts. We have also produced a pamphlet to act as a short handy guide to rural proofing.

Rural proofing is:

  • simple
  • necessary, even when a policy is intended to apply equally everywhere
  • about equity, not equality

Why is Rural proofing important?

In England 9.8 million people (19% of the population) live in rural areas. Virtually all policies impact upon rural communities. Rural proofing helps achieve good economic, environmental and social solutions that contribute to growth. The government wants to ensure rural areas get a fair deal from all government policy.

HM Treasury’s Green Book refers to rural proofing, and rural proofing is required when Departments prepare their policy Impact Assessments. Rural proofing is not optional, but it is also not complicated or a significant burden. It is not about special pleading for rural communities. Rural proofing is about making sure that evidence and policy impacts are considered fully.

Rural areas are not all the same. Rural England is made up of a range of different types of place including remote upland farmsteads, coastal communities, small market towns and commuter villages. The rural population is diverse in its demographic make up, and the rural economy is as broadly-based and varied as in urban areas. The rural economy is worth £211bn p.a (19% of national Gross Value Added (GVA)).

There are some challenges and issues that should be considered when developing or delivering policy.

For the rural economy

  • Lack of access to markets due to distance & costs.
  • Lack of fast internet
  • Variable mobile phone services

For rural service delivery

For rural quality of life

  • Over 1.3m people live in poverty but are spread across small pockets of deprivation which can make them difficult to identify and help
  • Household incomes can be lower due to part time or seasonal working
  • The Job Centre can be many miles away, and lack of public transport makes it difficult for the un-employed to access new jobs
  • Disproportionately more households can experience deeper fuel poverty
  • Two in five homes are off the gas grid and many will depend on more expensive fuel
  • House prices tend to be higher in rural areas (on average £19,000 more than in urban areas)

How to Rural proof

Rural proofing should be applied at all stages of policy development.

Defra’s Rural Communities Policy Unit will soon publish new National Rural Proofing Guidelines. The new Guidelines will provide support, advice and successful case studies to help officials across government rural proof their policies and programmes.

If you work for a Central Government Department and would like help and advice on rural proofing, or would like to consider hosting a Rural Proofing Workshop with the help of Defra - please email rural.communities@defra.gsi.gov.uk

Support for Departments

Defra’s Rural Communities Policy Unit (RCPU) has been established as the centre of rural expertise within Government, and is able to advise policy‐makers across Whitehall Departments on the likelihood and possible scale of rural impacts, and to suggest actions that might be taken to mitigate these. The RCPU can provide up-to-date information on rural areas and key rural stakeholders.

For help with rural evidence and statistics, the RCPU’s economists, statisticians and research experts are available to help. The Statistical Digest of Rural England provides a wide range of useful statistical data on the issues affecting rural England, with the Rural/Urban Definition (England and Wales) and Local authority rural - urban classification available to help examine the differences and similarities of rural and urban areas.

For support and advice from the RCPU please email rural.communities@defra.gsi.gov.uk

Local level Rural proofing guidelines

We know that many local policy makers and service providers need to consider the requirements of people and businesses living and working in rural areas. That is why we have developed a suite of local level rural proofing materials, the aim is that the guidance will help local decision makers to rural proof local policies and practices.

The materials were drawn up as part of our Local Rural Proofing project undertaken with partner organisations involved in local service provision and policy. We worked with the Local Government Association, National Association of Local Councils, and Action for Communities in Rural England, Rural Services Network, County Council Network, and the Community Transport Association. We aim to build up rural proofing principles and practice being applied by local policy and decision makers and make this practice available more widely.

You can access the full suite of materials, including the following project documents

For further information about the local level project please email rural.communities@defra.gsi.gov.uk