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Rural Communities Policy Unit

Volume 526: debated on Friday 1 April 2011

In June 2010, the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs announced that DEFRA Ministers would lead rural policy from within the Department supported by a strengthened Rural Communities Policy Unit and that the Commission for Rural Communities would therefore be abolished. I am pleased to report that, as of 1 April 2011, the first phase of this transition will be complete. The new DEFRA Rural Communities Policy Unit is now fully staffed and operational . Meanwhile, the Commission for Rural Communities has implemented a streamlined operating model which will enable it to continue to fulfil its statutory functions at a significantly reduced cost pending abolition.

The Rural Communities Policy Unit

The Government are committed to ensuring their policies and programmes properly take account of the needs and the potential of rural residents, businesses and communities. DEFRA’S ministerial team will act decisively to champion rural issues across Government. We are now supported in this by an enhanced Rural Communities Policy Unit (RCPU) which will operate as a centre of rural expertise, supporting and co-ordinating activity within and beyond DEFRA. The RCPU will play an important role in helping all Government Departments to ensure that their policies are effectively “rural proofed” before decisions are made.

Building upon the Department’s existing rural policy team, we have drawn in staff from the Commission for Rural Communities (CRC) and from other parts of Government to create the new unit. The RCPU’s immediate objectives are:

To identify issues of critical importance to rural communities and then support, inform and influence the development and implementation of relevant Government policy so as to achieve fair, practical and affordable outcomes for rural residents, businesses and communities;

To develop open and collaborative approaches to gathering information, evidence and potential solutions, working closely with the wide range of organisations which support and represent rural communities.

The RCPU will maintain and build upon the strong evidence base developed by both DEFRA and the CRC. This evidence will inform both the unit’s priorities and its policy-influencing function and will also be made available to the public via the DEFRA website. Much of the activity which helps rural communities to thrive takes place at a remove from central Government, often undertaken directly by people within the communities themselves. It is our intention that the RCPU’s evidence will promote the Government’s drive to decentralisation by supporting bodies operating sub-nationally better to understand and take proper account of rural needs and opportunities.

The Commission for Rural Communities

From 1 April 2011, the CRC’s chairman, Dr Stuart Burgess, and commissioners will act collectively and individually to fulfil their statutory functions rather than operating as an oversight board for a much larger organisation. They will be supported by a small team, with back office functions such as HR, finance and IT being provided by DEFRA. Pending abolition, the commission will continue to act as critical friend to DEFRA, with a work programme complementary to that of the RCPU. Further details of the commission’s plans for 2010-11 will be available from 1 April at www.defra.gov.uk/crc

It is no small achievement to have made the transition to these new rural policy delivery arrangements within nine months. I am grateful to all those in DEFRA, the CRC and beyond who have enabled us to get to this point.