March 6, 2019
When the National Council of Rural Advisers was established to advise Ministers on the rural economy there was some consternation that the make-up of the membership reflected a somewhat lopsided view of rural Scotland – namely food and drink, farming and forestry. And so when they reported to Ministers, it was no surprise that their blueprint for Scotland’s rural economy contained a few ‘blind spots’. When challenged at Rural Housing Scotland’s conference for ignoring the important issue of land and land ownership, the response was that the issue hadn’t been raised with them during their consultations. Depends who you ask.
FOREWORD AND INTRODUCTION to Full Report National Council of Rural Advisers–
We have a bold and ambitious vision for the future of our rural economy – inspired by the conversations and contributions to the NCRA process, from people across Scotland.
To achieve this vision will require radical change and a new approach to policymaking and action. Scotland’s rural economy is bursting with talent and potential. With an abundance of natural capital, world-renowned heritage and vibrant, diverse communities, our rural economy is not just crucial to Scotland’s national brand, it is crucial to our national prosperity.
Yet when the NCRA examined the legacy of rural policy making and listened to the voices of rural Scotland, it became apparent that whilst ambitious recommendations have been made in the past, the same challenges remain. National policy making processes do not always effectively represent rural interests and have not delivered the best economic outcomes for Scotland.
In delivering on our remit “to provide advice and recommendations on future rural policy and support” we recognise that only by addressing the complex structural issues that prevent change can we realise the vast opportunity that rural Scotland presents.
In our consultation paper, ‘A Rural Conversation: Together We Can, Together We Will’, we called for a Rural Economic Strategy, putting the rural economy at the heart of the national economic plan. It is significant to see the Scottish Government embrace this idea in the Programme for Government, with the proposal for a Rural Economic Action Plan. This commitment is testament to the enthusiasm and expertise gained from all those who have influenced the NCRA’s work, and the opportunity presented to us by a listening government. We have achieved our aim of starting a national conversation about the future of the rural economy, and we are extremely grateful to everyone who contributed to this work. We must all now build the momentum. We need radical change that redefines therural contribution and makes clear its significance in achieving Scotland’s national ambitions.
The leading recommendation is that a vibrant, sustainable and inclusive rural economy can only be achieved by recognising its strategic importance – and effectively mainstreaming it within all policy and decision-making processes. When this is achieved, ultimately, there should be no need for a separate rural economic strategy – it will simply be part of ‘the way things are done’. But we know that requires a change in mindset, culture and structure, and that takes time.
That is why our second recommendation is to develop an interim Rural Economic Framework (REF), aligned to the National Performance Framework. The REF will provide a structure to enable transition, including the development and implementation of a new approach and delivery model for rural policy, development support and investment. We have the opportunity to remove the complexity and lack of understanding surrounding rural support by clearly linking it to the achievement of national outcomes: ensuring it is well understood, accepted and celebrated for improving national economic prosperity and wellbeing. The Agricultural Champions’ report called for a transitionary period before the implementation of a new approach to rural development support: the REF will align with this and work to develop a future strategy with industry and government.
The REF will be our roadmap and investment strategy for the transitional journey towards mainstreaming the rural economy. The framework describes what needs to happen to nurture and protect our people and natural assets; with inclusive support and a robust infrastructure, while ensuring that everything we do continues to support national economic priorities. It will be the tool to leverage opportunities and demonstrate that not only can rural Scotland support national priorities, there are many areas where we can lead the way. It also provides a mechanism by which we can hold each other to account and maintain the momentum. To that end, our third recommendation is to create a Rural Economy Action Group (REAG), which has the clout to get things done and set the tone for change.
We know there have been numerous papers published in the past, calling for action that, despite everyone’s best efforts, was never fully achieved. We do not want that to happen this time. For that reason, we have begun with the fundamental structural changes required but also recommend a number of specific, foundational actions for the action group to focus on from the outset.
It is time for the rural community to own its future and ensure its voice is heard, and our ambitions and potential are delivered. We all have a part to play in shaping Scotland’s future into one we are proud to be involved in creating. This is the first step in a journey towards ensuring Scotland is recognised as a world leader in rural economic development and inclusive growth – together we can, together we will.