The Rural Development Council was set up in 2008 by the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and the Environment, Richard Lochhead. The Council is an independent forum that brings a broad range of expertise on rural matters to bear on strategic discussion to shape the development of rural policy and practice in Scotland. In 2009, the Cabinet Secretary asked the Council for specific advice on how rural Scotland could best contribute to the creation of a more successful country through sustainable economic growth, and how to face up to the challenges of the 21st century.
The consultation document 'Speak Up for Rural Scotland' set out the Council's response. It contained their vision for a prosperous rural Scotland, under 4 strands: active and confident communities; the best connected place; competitive enterprises creating employment opportunities; and world-rated natural and built environments. The report focused on 7 overarching themes and suggested 37 Step Changes designed to generate innovation and activity and to stimulate individuals and enterprises to work together to bring about a prosperous rural Scotland. The consultation document included 6 questions; respondents were invited to give their views on the Council's advice.
The public consultation ran between 2 August and 25 October 2010. To gather the views of as many people as possible with an interest in rural Scotland, the Scottish Government published 'Speak Up' on its consultation website, publicised the paper widely, and distributed around 5,000 copies of the paper across Scotland. The Scottish Government also arranged an online forum on the Scottish National Rural Network ( SNRN) webpage and held a number of consultation events:
- Four regional consultation events, to provide opportunities for people to participate in facilitated group discussion of the document.
- A Youth Parliament workshop event.
- A High School debate held on Benbecula.
- Two Scottish Enterprise discussion events for business people invited via rural leadership schemes.
- A discussion with the Older People's Forum.
One hundred and thirty one written responses to the consultation were received: 83 people responded on behalf of an organisation, and 48 responded as individuals. George Street Research was commissioned to conduct a transparent, rigorous and systematic analysis of the written responses submitted to the consultation and the notes from the events.
This section reports the main findings arising from responses to the six consultation questions.
Q1: Main issues relevant to economic growth in rural Scotland
Respondents were asked whether the Council's advice covers all of the main issues relevant to economic growth in rural Scotland. The key points made were as follows:
Rural Economies: respondents referred to the importance of tourism, country sports and the creative industries to rural Scotland and also focused on the need to develop and encourage rural businesses and entrepreneurial skills.
Infrastructure and Services: the focus here was on the role of education in developing the skills and talents needed by rural Scotland; the need for demand responsive transport schemes, and better roads in rural areas; the need to link a wide range of elements such as housing, employment, high speed broadband, schools, childcare facilities, transport and shops.
Empowering Communities: respondents stressed the need to ensure diversity and inclusiveness within the rural context.
Sustaining Rural Communities: respondents focused on a range of issues, including the need for adequate and affordable housing provision.
Multipurpose Land Use: a number of issues were raised. These included a need for a greater focus on environmental protection and improvement and its role in sustainable economic growth; a lack of reference to agriculture and commercial farming and its role as an economic driver in many rural communities; and a lack of reference to the contribution of Scotland's marine assets in terms of marine-based tourism or offshore renewable energy.
Renewable Energy: it was noted that the Renewable Energy section should have increased focus on micro-energy ( e.g. domestic generation of power such as wind turbines).
Working Together: respondents noted the need for more recognition and support for organisations involved in enabling community empowerment, increased community ownership and greater involvement in future planning.
Q2: Most important Step Changes
The clear priority amongst the 37 Step Changes is access to high-speed broadband in all of rural Scotland, with respondents arguing that this is a fundamental requirement. High-speed broadband was perceived to be necessary for rural businesses to function effectively and be competitive, as well as offering potential benefits for community and social wellbeing.
The next most important Step Change priorities are:
- encouragement of rural partnerships in the context of land use;
- space for affordable housing;
- co-operation between local communities, land managers, planners and developers to identify appropriate sites and opportunities with potential for renewable energy development;
- community collaboration and action to be reflected in Single Outcome Agreements ( SOAs) and recognised by Community Planning Partnerships ( CPPs) and the public sector;
- local people to get involved in growing their community.
A wide range of reasons were given for supporting these Step Changes, including community benefits, economic benefits, and positive impacts on rural facilities and infrastructure. Respondents also provided examples of existing successful models of some of the Step Changes, arguing that these could be introduced elsewhere or serve as useful examples of good practice.
Where concerns were outlined, these centred around the availability of funding/ support for the Step Changes.
Q3: Additional Step Changes
Respondents provided general commentary on the issues they felt were important, rather than proposing specific additions.
The main issue raised related to finance and/ or grant funding, for example, the need to address resourcing/ funding issues in the current economic climate. Other key issues included:
- planning and regulation: the need to reduce regulation and bureaucracy;
- housing: for example, the need to make more effective use of empty and second homes in rural areas;
- transport: for example, the need to improve transport infrastructure.
Q4: Implementation of Step Changes
In terms of implementation of the Step Changes, respondents highlighted the importance of engaging with local communities and/ or local delivery of the Step Changes. Partnership working (including a wide range of organisations e.g. government agencies, Non Governmental Organisations ( NGOs), the third sector, businesses, local communities/ Community Councils etc) was also emphasised, as was the need for investment and availability of funding in order to implement the Step Changes. Other key themes included:
- the importance of capacity building at the individual, organisational and community level. For example, respondents stressed the need for skilled and informed community organisations and for relevant skill training for community leaders and third sector organisations;
- the importance of evidence gathering and sharing good practice;
- the potential role of specific organisations and networks in implementation of the Step Changes;
- a need for an action plan/ strategic guidance from the Scottish Government relating to implementation.
Q5: What respondents could do in their local area to support the local economy and/ or community
Respondents focused on partnership working and networking with other communities, as well as with public, private and third sector organisations as means of supporting their local economies and communities. They also felt they had a role in providing or sharing information, training, advice or mentoring. Respondents also highlighted the possibility of encouraging or facilitating local decision making and planning.
Q6: Any other comments
Many of the issues raised in the 'any other comments' question reiterated points already made, and the key themes generally reflected issues already covered earlier in the report. The most common response to this question was for respondents to suggest areas that required greater focus, or were missing from the document. The key areas mentioned were:
- protecting the environment;
- issues related to transport and/ or infrastructure;
- the need to promote tourism;
- community land ownership;
- references to culture/ the arts/ heritage;
- greater recognition of the role/ contribution of the private and third sectors.
Consultation events and online forum
Many issues raised at the consultation events and on the online forum reflected the main themes already identified from the consultation responses. The most popular Step Changes voted for at the regional events were:
- 25: Access to high-speed broadband to all rural Scotland;
- 17: Local people to get involved in growing their community;
- 20: Space for affordable housing;
- 19: Community collaboration and action to be reflected in SOAs and recognised by CPPs and the public sector;
- 16: Support for small scale community projects, simplified consents process, aligned with planning requirements; minimised fees and charges in renewable energy project applications.
The consultation on 'Speak Up for Rural Scotland' generated 131 written responses.
This section summarises the conclusions in terms of the four strands of the RDC's Vision.
'The best connected place'
- This strand attracted major support with respondents ranking Step Change 25 'Access to high-speed broadband to all rural Scotland' as the most important.
- Many respondents highlighted the importance of transport and/ or infrastructure and felt the document could focus more on these areas.
'Competitive enterprises creating employment opportunities'
- Respondents felt that a greater focus was required on entrepreneurial skills; education and training; and on particular sectors such as tourism, country sports and the creative industries.
'Active and confident communities'
- Respondents commented on the importance of local involvement and delivery, and community empowerment as well as partnership working.
- The main suggestions as to how respondents could support their local economy and/ or community focused on the need to encourage partnership working, information sharing and local decision making.
'World rated natural and built environments'
- Two Step Changes related to this strand (Step Changes 20 and 14) were voted into the top 5 most important.
- Among the main areas seen as missing was a focus on nature conservation and the environment. However, it should be noted that the consultation on 'Getting the best from our land: A draft land use strategy for Scotland', running concurrently with this project, covers this issue in one of its objectives aimed at 'better consideration of the natural environment'.
- Respondents also mentioned the need for housing in rural areas and a lack of focus on the importance of community land ownership.
Other themes to emerge related to the need for capacity building; evidence gathering; and the sharing of good practice. Encouraging people, especially young people, to remain in or return to rural areas was also highlighted as an important area for consideration. Many of the proposals contained in 'Speak Up for Rural Scotland' received a very positive response. Respondents did, however, stress the importance of these proposals leading to action. Many respondents indicated their willingness to contribute to local prosperity and outlined how they were working together with other communities and organisations to grow their community and economy.