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25 January 2011
Rural England plays a significant role in the economy of the United Kingdom, but an even larger social and cultural role. And it is unique among OECD regions, in that it is geographically compact, with rural inhabitants generally no more than a half hour’s drive from an urban area. There is thus a vast amount of interaction between rural and urban populations in England.
England’s rural population is, on average, doing better than the urban population across a broad range of socio-economic indicators. Nevertheless, rural England is also struggling with pockets of poverty and social exclusion, difficulties in maintaining access to high quality public services, an ageing population, and, most importantly, a widespread shortage of affordable housing.
The government has adopted mainstreaming as its rural policy strategy. The objective of mainstreaming is to ensure that people in rural England have access to the same policies and programmes as those available in urban England. While mainstreaming is an attractive policy approach, especially in a country with strong rural-urban interactions such as England, it has proved challenging to implement. This report examines the mainstreaming policy response as applied to rural England and suggests ways to increase its effectiveness.
- Using the OECD definition, about 10% of England’s population is considered rural. Roughly 28% of the population in intermediate regions and about 4% in predominantly urban regions are rural. But England’s rural typology is based on sparseness, which captures the difference between more densely settled rural areas near urban places and the less common remote rural regions (see figures below).
| Rural and urban definition, 2004
|| Rural and urban classification of local authorities
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- On average, rural England has better socio-economic indicators than the urban part of the country. The planning system plays a major role in determining new housing availability. The rural population is growing due to an influx of retirees and commuters from urban areas Settlement patterns in rural England have resulted in a large number of very small or micro-communities and there is a shortage of affordable housing.
- The largest employers in rural areas are public services, manufacturing and distribution. The economies of rural England support at least 4.5 million jobs. Rural communities have a limited number of economic functions and a limited mix of firms. This reflects their small size in terms of labour force and local market potential. Many goods and services cannot be profitably produced in a small community and have to be imported.
- Improving mainstreaming: Strengthening rural mainstreaming, rural proofing and improving the rural evidence base to better capture the rural story. Effective ’rural mainstreaming’ requires (1) building sound “rural evidence” (2) making it available to all ministries and (3) “rural proofing” during the policy design, development and implementation phases.
Mainstreaming recognises that there are differences between urban and rural communities, but is founded upon the certainty that the basic requirements of all types of community are fundamentally the same – everyone needs a high quality local environment, a decent home, a good education system, and access to good healthcare and other public services.
- Mainstreaming dictates that the needs and interests of rural people, business and communities should be equitably addressed through all mainstream policies and programmes
- Under mainstreaming equitable does not mean equal or uniform or imply a uniform approach to delivery of services.
- Mainstream policies and programmes are typically those that apply universally. They are generally developed at the national level, interpreted at the regional level and implemented at the local level.
- Under mainstreaming those designing the policy or delivering the programmes will determine the best delivery method.
Source: OECD (2009), England Background Report.
- Maximising urban-rural linkages: Bridging urban and rural realities with the mainstreamed spatial policy approach. The high degree of integration between urban areas and the vast majority of rural England makes it possible to establish broad policy mechanisms in many domains without any need to inject specific urban and rural approaches.
- More affordable rural housing: Navigating the controversy over land conservation and the need for rural housing and introducing greater rural housing market flexibility to ensure that regional labour markets work efficiently. The preference in England is to protect the natural, cultural and historical amenities of its rural areas and place limits on development. The influx of older retirees and second home owners has caused housing prices in rural areas to increase, but wages in rural areas are lower than in urban areas. This is leading to local labour market imbalances in some places with a distinct shortage of social housing.
- Improving service delivery: Improving the delivery of services in rural areas to the population and rural businesses, particularly in sparsely populated regions. Services are more expensive to deliver in rural areas but there is no recognition of this in mainstreaming. This is a problem that will worsen as demands for services increase due to an older rural population, many of whom expect services comparable to those in urban areas.
- Strengthening the rural economy: Understanding the important role of small and medium size firms. With a smaller public sector, more private sector jobs will be needed. While rural areas have a higher incidence of new firm formation than urban areas, the population of rural firms tends to consist overwhelmingly of small businesses. The share of self-employment is far higher, and rural entrepreneurs tend to be less interested in business expansion. This has implications for private-sector job creation in rural areas.
- Look for market-based solutions to rural development problems and resist the urge to replace existing financial incentives with more regulations.
- Introduce a distinct rural component to the “city region” strategy or incorporate policies for those rural areas that fall outside of the city region approach. The city regions strategy—linking a major urban area with surrounding urban places and a rural hinterland—recognises the interconnections between places of different size. However, the current focus of the model is city-led development that presumes that future growth will spring from the urban core of the main city, suggesting a minor role for rural areas.
- Reinforce mainstreaming with other measures in the short term, better integrate the mandates of mainstreaming and rural proofing, and clarify the responsibilities for each.
- Define specific adjustments to address the problems of the most remote rural areas. A small part of the rural population is too distant from urban centres to be well served by mainstreaming. To meet national policy goals of equitable quality of life there will need to be specific supplemental policy approaches.
- Strengthen the rural economy by joining up housing policy, planning policy and economic development strategies at the local level. Better consider the role of rural areas in the strategies to increase economic competiveness. Introduced diversity in employment choices by increasing employment and attracting new enterprises. Fiscal constraint will mean fewer public sector jobs in the future. The largest employment groups in rural areas are public services (health, education and public administration).
- Broaden the focus beyond that of pure economic development to better identify new ways to enhance the competitiveness of the rural economy and reduce the number of government-imposed restrictions on individual choice.
Readers can access the full version of OECD Rural Policy Reviews: England, United Kingdom by choosing from the following options:
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For more information on the United Kingdom you can also consult www.oecd.org/uk
You can find full list of Rural Policy Reviews at publications on rural development.
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