A motion on “rural proofing” Devon County Council (DCC)’s policies, from Labour’s Cllr Yvonne Atkinson (Alphington and Cowick division), Labour’s lead on rural affairs came before the Cabinet on Wednesday, January 13.
The motion sought to make challenges and opportunities faced by rural Devon integral to policy making, with Cllr Atkinson saying she tabled it because “Devon is being left behind by the Tories as they concentrate on the Red wall in the North.” A Rural impact assessment from the outset, including engagement with rural stakeholders, means “the needs of rural communities will become transparent and would demonstrate whether government or local policies address the needs of rural communities and rural economies like Devon.”
Cabinet members voted in favour of using Labour’s “Notice of Motion” to guide its response to a promised Government report on rural proofing. A briefing prepared by officers noted that rural England faces new challenges and opportunities from EU Exit, declining farm profitability, changing consumer and live/work patterns, an ageing population, housing affordability, access to services, training provision, banking and high speed broadband in certain areas, climate change and new technology.
The briefing noted rural opportunities in environmental, agri-tech, energy and digital sectors, and strong economic interplay between neighbouring rural, urban and coastal areas. The Government has yet to announce how Devon’s EU structural funding will be replaced, and officers’ briefing called for any new monitoring and assessment duties for DCC to be accompanied by the necessary Government funding for an “equitable result in terms of funding for Devon and its residents and businesses”. Devon’s funding from the Government does not address the “additional costs of service provision and difficulty of delivery in rural areas”, it said, and the Government should “support fairer treatment in future funding settlements.”
Speaking for the motion Labour group leader Cllr Rob Hannaford said he was content Labour’s motion would guide Devon’s response to Government, but Cllr Atkinson points out “DCC does not have to wait for Government approval to carry out a rural impact assessment and I urge DCC to make this a standard part of policy and decision making.”