Together we can, together we will: analysis of consultation responses

This report details the analysis of the National Council of Rural Advisers' (NCRA) consultation.

3. Vision

3.1 The consultation document stressed the importance of an ambitious narrative for the future of rural Scotland, which acknowledges the need for coherence and collaboration.

The findings in this chapter are largely drawn from analysis of responses to the following consultation questions:

  • Question 3: Build on existing work to gather evidence and data to measure the true value of the rural economy and monitor its growth.
    • Going beyond the economic contribution of rural businesses, what positive examples of social (i.e. community cohesion), cultural (i.e. protection of heritage and traditions) and environmental (i.e. carbon reducing) impacts of rural businesses can you think of?
    • What specific outcomes of rural businesses should be measured and why?
  • Question 5: Develop opportunities for the businesses of urban and rural Scotland to share ideas and work together.
    • How do you think we could do this? (for example through schools or membership organisation groups)
    • Facilitating learning/sharing between urban and rural areas to improve and have a better understanding of the opportunities that are available would be new for Scotland. What would interest you in this approach? Are there any benefits/drawbacks?
  • Question 6: Create communities of interest (digital, physical) where businesses and people can come together to solve problems, share ideas and understand opportunities.
    • Is there any place that you can think of in your community where people already do this? Can you please tell us about it?
    • What might be the benefits of this approach?
    • What things would your local community need to help people in your local area come together?
  • Question 9: Make sure that community resources that contribute to our economy (like tourist attractions) also deliver benefits to their communities.
    • Can you think of any examples of resources in your community e.g. that attract visitors and make money but that do not benefit the community?
    • Are there examples of attractions in your community that you would like to promote? What could help you do this?

3.2 Across responses linked to achieving the vision there were positive and negative comments - some participants identified issues to resolve, others focused on opportunities for growth and change.

3.3 A recurrent theme across responses about the vision for rural Scotland was the notion of greater engagement, connectivity and collaboration as a solution to many challenges; in person and through digital platforms.

  • Comments on collaborative working included across and within areas, sectors, by government agencies and representative bodies. Respondents also highlighted the potential for separate organisations to work in isolation towards common goals.
  • In discussions about collaboration, many benefits were identified. For example collaboration was noted as a means to ensure responsiveness to issues and challenges. Some mentioned that through engagement, individuals, communities and organisations would have greater buy-in and motivation to achieve change. Others highlighted the likelihood of improved profitability, productivity and sustainability of economic activity through practical demonstrations and sharing of best practice. Empowerment, identity, the establishment of networks and other community and social benefits were also attributed to collaborative processes.
  • The consultation gathered numerous examples (see following page) of existing successful collaborative efforts to achieve positive impacts for individuals, communities and businesses. Several national organisations described their own work as of relevance when considering ways to increase collaboration and connections between rural and urban areas and some pointed to lessons from sectors that span rural and urban areas.
  • Some urged for caution around any new collaborative efforts, feeling that much collaborative activity is underway and expressing concerns about the potential for duplicated work and waste of resources. They suggested that a joined-up approach should be a priority for organisations and government bodies involvement in shaping the future of Scotland’s rural economy.
  • Of interest is the number of respondents who suggested more could be done to support people (rather than businesses or organisations) from rural and urban communities to interact with one another as a route to more meaningful collaboration; often suggesting ‘place’ based activity including Twinning, exchanges, roadshows/tours or changing location of activities from cities to rural areas.
  • The Scottish Rural Parliament was mentioned as way to engage people across the rural economy by a significant proportion of respondents.

Examples of collaboration drawn from consultation responses

  • In rural Stirling, Stirling Council and LEADER have recently come together to jointly fund the refurbishment of Council owned or business owned facilities to make them into rural business hubs which can be accessed 24 hours a day with a key fob arrangement. One facility has been used by Business Gateway to deliver a website training course.
  • In Argyll and Bute, the Council has been working with SURF (Scotland’s Regeneration Forum), supported by the Highlands and the Islands Enterprise, to form groups of local people to tackle longstanding regeneration issues in the communities of Bute and Dunoon.
  • Through its Townscape Heritage scheme, Argyll and Bute Council and Bute Island Alliance are working together to create a combined pop-up retail and co-working office space in Rothesay. The space will be offered at affordable rates to people who want to grow their business and want to work from a business environment rather than their home.
  • The Rural Innovation Support Service is part of the Scottish Rural Network, and is led by Soil Association Scotland in partnership with SAC Consulting, SAOS, and Scotland Food & Drink. It enables groups of land managers in Scotland to explore their business ideas in a collaborative way, by taking a supply chain approach.
  • Perthshire Tourism Partnership brings together tourism leaders from across Perth and Kinross with the agencies (VisitScotland, Perth and Kinross Council, Historic and Environment Scotland) once a quarter to hear short presentations.
  • Newmilns Regeneration Association, a community and business led project to redevelop the rural village of Newmilns, hosts events throughout the for the local community which also brings in large numbers of tourists.
  • CVO East Ayrshire supports voluntary organisations to come together for common purposes and to enable local people to gain access to decision making processes which affect their community. There are also outreach facilities in rural villages.

Demonstrating the value of rural businesses

3.4 A range of ideas were put forward about measuring outcomes from rural businesses. In comments, respondents highlighted the potential to use data as an agent of change, learning and understanding of its value.

3.5 Above and beyond the economic impact of business activities, participants highlighted other important contributions.

  • Some mentioned the particularly important role that rural businesses can play in addressing social issues, noting that robust evidence about this would lead to greater recognition and support. Examples included flexible working arrangements that enable people to sustain employment while fulfilling caring responsibilities, direct provision of social care services, the creation of volunteering opportunities that can serve to address social isolation, provide diversion from harmful behaviours and also provide
  • opportunities for people who do not live in rural areas to access Scotland’s natural environment.
  • A few mentioned the environmental impact of rural businesses; both in terms of service that involve looking after the natural environment but also through efficient, low impact ways of working. For example one said that rural businesses often develop innovative ways to solve problems – such as reusing materials or adopting low cost, new ways of working. Others noted that rural business owners are predisposed work in environmentally friendly ways because they are much more likely to have to live with and see the impact of any environmentally harmful practice.
  • In relation to culture, participants mentioned that local businesses sustain and build social capital. They highlighted the importance of arts and crafts in rural economy and the culture or making. Others noted the important role of rural businesses in developing an understanding of Scotland’s history, for example by facilitating tourism around culturally significant sites.

3.6 The unique nature of the rural economy was often mentioned, with a perception that there is a gap in understanding and evidence at present.

  • There was a perception that little is done to analyse any difference in take up and access to support and services between rural and urban areas, particularly in relation to finance, advice and business development.
  • Suggested measurements in relation to rural businesses included:
    • Interaction with the local community – in addition to customer numbers, there were calls for insights around social and other values for example professional services for other local businesses, provision of a service such as carer that could not otherwise be provided locally
    • Multiplier effects and ‘sticky money’
    • Impact on the environment
    • Profile of business owners – for example starts up by young people, gender etc.
    • Reach of business (tourist point of origin)
    • Turnover and employment statistics
    • % of diversified farms
    • % added value food
    • Farm tourism
    • Land use as a catalyst for a new business
    • Interaction with support agencies such as Business Gateway (to show deficit in rural take up)
  • One participant also suggested it could be useful to adopt other mechanisms to evidence social change occurring as the vision for Scotland is realised, for example capturing the conversations that are taking place on online platforms, such as exchanges between young people in rural areas or members of the agricultural community on Twitter.
  • There was mention of the importance of getting buy-in around data collection, so that those being asked for information (particularly micro businesses) see it as relevant activity that will demonstrate value; one person suggested that it would be easy to collect more comprehensive data through the annual farm return. However, some urged for caution, viewing any additional paperwork as a burden on businesses.
  • Others noted the difficulties in capturing informal activity and exchanges between individuals and businesses that has an important role in rural areas.
  • Some took a holistic approach to the consideration of evidence and described a need for data around individual experiences and needs, for example the numbers of people affected by loneliness or levels of mental wellbeing issues.
  • Participants urged the NCRA to take note of specific data sets and references (see Appendix 2).


3.7 In discussions about economic activity that detracts from community life, participants highlighted:

  • Large chains in rural areas do not circulate their earnings within the local economy. Supermarkets deliver in rural areas without employing locally or contributing to the local economy
  • Right to roam is exercised by tourists with little thought given to the impact they may have on local industries, e.g. sheep worrying
  • A lack of local ownership and employment in local businesses means that money may be taken out of the local economy
  • Some larger sites and attractions draw large numbers of visitors without encouraging footfall to other small local businesses such as eateries
  • Hotels and other businesses may host disruptive events, such as events with fireworks, which have a negative impact on local livestock and young children
  • Pollution by businesses, e.g. quarries
  • Self-contained tourism, e.g. campervans, cruise ships, where the benefit to the local community can be limited as visitors have their own provisions for accommodation and food but use local infrastructure such as roads with little expenditure to make up for this

3.8 Not surprisingly, when considering the vision for rural Scotland, respondents highlighted complex and systemic challenges for policy makers to consider, with repeat mention of issues covered elsewhere in this report such as:

  • Infrastructure
  • Subsidies and taxation policies
  • Land ownership
  • Changes to the education system
  • Scotland post-Brexit
  • Encouraging and managing tourism

Vision – illustrative quotes

The monitor farm programme in Scotland has brought together groups of like-minded farmers who wish to improve their businesses by sharing performance information and best practice around a nationwide network of host farms.

Transport is too often viewed solely as a barrier and its value as a legitimate economic activity is far too often ignored. A crofter who runs the school bus, the shop keeper who takes folk to the town once a week or the plumber who carries a passenger – these are all opportunities to add value and provide a service. The strength of the rural economy lies in its diversity and the ability of rural dwellers to multi-task.
Name withheld (Organisation)

It is important to work together building on each other’s expertise and findings and being careful to avoid the creation of new organisations which duplicate work and lack joined up thinking. … We stress the importance of collaboration and having a united approach from a government level and down to grassroots organisations for this to be achieved.
Scottish Land and Estates

The equine industry which is often very much on the urban fringes sees a lot of amalgamation and collaboration between the urban and the rural. More understanding between urban and rural leads to better stewardsmanship, e.g. less litter, understanding food production and appreciating good animal welfare’.
British Horse Society

As the majority of rural businesses are small businesses and many people in rural areas have ‘portfolio careers’ a method of aggregating the economic impact of businesses in a place and/or by sector would be helpful in addressing business support, training and distribution needs.
Tayside and Central Scotland Transport Partnership

We also need to be ambitious about becoming the base for new sectors and alternative technologies and employment opportunities; it’s not just about continuing with the existing traditional sectors. Digital, coding + AI + FinTech, distributed energy, health and biomedicine should be seen as key development areas.
South of Scotland Alliance

Technology may help sustain virtual communities (who may share the same interests whether they are in urban or rural areas), but thought should be given to how these relationships can be initiated in the first place. Initiatives such as the Scottish Rural Parliament can help create opportunities for face to face contact.
National Trust for Scotland



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