What does the Queen's Speech mean for rural communities?

AUTHOR: GRAHAM BIGGS, CHIEF EXECUTIVE OF THE RURAL SERVICES NETWORK


So now we know the government’s proposed programme for new legislation in the current session of parliament, as well as some other actions the government intends to take that, don’t need new laws or changes to existing laws. But what does it tell us?

Nothing much new in the programme which will directly impact rural people, businesses or communities because the government had signalled its intentions in recent months through policy statements, white papers, consultations and the like. The Queen’s Speech and a 163-page supplementary document published by the government didn’t include very much detail on any of the proposals other than the overall purpose of each new bill, some key elements and key facts.

When new policy proposals or white papers are issued by the government we at the Rural Services Network (RSN) look at them in detail and produce reviews of the documents concerned ‘through a Rural lens’, such as our rural review of the Queen’s Speech. In every case, we have commented that ‘the devil will be in the detail’ and that is still where we are after the new legislative programme has been issued. We will be considering the detailed impact on rural people, communities and business of all the policies and proposals as they emerge.

A key government statement in the supporting document says “To unleash the full potential of people and places across the country, we will level up across the UK, boosting jobs, driving growth and innovation, increasing opportunity for everyone, and ensuring everyone have access to excellent public services, regardless of where they live.” We must ensure that those fine words become a reality from a rural perspective.

For now, there are a few points of principle/overarching issues we wish to flag up across the proposals as a whole.

Many of the measures in the Queen’s Speech will impact rural communities and businesses. It is essential that proper, effective and transparent rural proofing of the legislation and the delivery is in place across government to ensure that rural areas can both benefit from the proposals and contribute to the recovery and well-being of the nation.

A second key principle for us is that public services must receive a fair share of whatever resources the treasury funds. In addition to the current underfunding of rural areas, it must be paramount that for any financial measures resulting from the legislation, rural areas must receive a fair share of the funding available and the funding formulae should also take account of the particular needs and circumstances of rural areas.

Thirdly, the proposed Levelling Up White Paper must give proper attention to needs in rural areas, particularly those heavily dependent on vulnerable employment sectors or lacking access to good quality services. High priority must be given to improving digital connectivity in all rural areas. With the right investment, rural areas have the potential to make a significant contribution to building back better.

And finally, there are some specific proposals which are crucial to the well-being of rural communities and business, in particular the proposed legislation on the reform of the NHS, education and skills, reform of the rail and bus networks, planning and housing and ensuring the supply of affordable housing in all rural areas not just designated rural areas. The rural voice must be built into the development of these proposals from the start.

Making the connections between the various proposed measures and legislation are crucial to their success in rural areas since many of them are interrelated e.g. jobs and transport, housing and schools. Although the RSN continues to believe that a Rural Strategy is the best and most appropriate way of addressing these interrelationships, we nevertheless urge the government, without further delay, to set out their long-awaited vision for rural areas (as promised in their response to the House of Lords Select Committee on the Rural Economy in 2019).  That vision will set the context for addressing the needs of rural areas and unlocking their potential.

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