6.1 A large number of individuals and organisations that represent, live and work in rural Scotland took part in the consultation, providing a robust evidence base for the NCRA to reflect upon in the development of its recommendations. The dominant trends across responses align with, and are given additional weight by, findings gathered through the detailed workshops undertaken by the NCRA at the start of 2018. They highlighted a multitude of existing assets in the rural economy for policy makers to build upon and many additional opportunities for growth in the short, medium and long term. These useful examples and insights about activity may be worthy of further exploration by the NCRA in terms of mapping and case study.
Rural Economic Strategy
6.2 Most clear is broad support for a Rural Economic Strategy. Participants suggested ways to achieve accountability for strategy design and implementation, as well as priorities and areas for the strategy to focus upon. Reflecting a perceived under-representation of rural matters in policy development processes, there is an appetite for increased consultation. A desire for changed ways of working within and across government to support rural economic development was also expressed.
6.3 There is an appetite for change and growth rural Scotland. Participants identified the potential to nurture and utilise assets for the benefit of individuals, communities and businesses, recognising advantages for those in rural areas and the wider country as a whole. Sustainable employment, investment in infrastructure, opportunities for collaborative working and ownership, new ways of doing business and greater connectivity between planning at national and local levels were highlighted as factors most likely to achieve change. Many respondents referenced evidence to support their suggestions; others identified gaps in data, that could be gathered to add depth and insight into the need for and impact of any changes.
6.4 Linked to the notions of change and opportunity, responses about people - largely related to workforce, education and communities - provide insights into the benefits and challenges of rural living. Many identified opportunities for investment and some urged for a reconsideration of national approaches that have unintended and unhelpful consequences for those living in rural areas. Some participants articulated a sense of joy about life in a rural setting, highlighting the quality of life impacts from the local environment, community, culture, open space and a sense of freedom in places that are not densely populated.
6.5 Comments about infrastructure highlight well-known and complex issues that may take some time and considerable resourcing to unpack and address. Almost all participants alluded to important barriers that affect everyday life and economic development, particularly access to transport and broadband. Participants expressed mixed expectations about availability of services, but there was repeat mention of the declining high street presence of important service like banks. Key opportunities for supporting economic and social development were linked to social services, planning, regulation, tax and access to finance.
Rural Economic Strategy: Further discussion of themes
Key themes associated with accountability in relation to the proposed Rural Economic
- On the theme of leadership, participants identified the need for a strong and clear commitment from the Scottish Government, fed down through all departments and relevant agencies, in order to achieve the desired aims of the Rural Economic Strategy. In comments on leadership, some described a feeling that there is an imbalance in representation that favours the majority who live in urban areas; a few participants mentioned a loss of representation and resources for rural areas as a result of Brexit.
- In relation to scrutiny, participants asked for the establishment of processes to enable the NCRA and others to hold the Scottish Government and its agencies to account. This reflects a view expressed by many participants that developing and implementing a strategy will be a complex process. Some noted a perception that those in rural areas have been calling for action for some time, but believe there has been little change.
- On the theme of measurement, a mixture of standard and innovative approaches were described. There were suggestions that measurement activities could be utilised for two purposes; firstly, adopting well established approaches to evidencing progress and secondly, to stimulate new ways of working. Comments on the adoption of standard measurement practices included setting clear indicators and outcomes, recording progress, monitoring spend and resourcing, tracking any activity delivered, and capturing outcomes achieved. Suggestions about the use of monitoring as a tool for change included measurement of collaborative practice and other new approaches to working, plus capturing the learning from and success of any innovative practice implemented by government agencies.
- In discussions about responsibility, participants noted the scale and complexity of change involved to successfully implement the proposed rural economic strategy, suggesting it would involve work within and across a broad range of government departments and partners from the public, third and private sector. Clear responsibilities and duties were described as necessary to ensure that different agents understand their roles and have the power and resource to make progress.