New blueprint for Scotland's rural economy: recommendations to Scottish Ministers

The National Council of Rural Advisers' report detailing their final recommendations to Scottish Ministers.

What Rural Thinks: The Five Core Principles And The Recommendations

The National Conversation

In the NCRA interim report - 'Rural Conversation: Together We Can, Together We Will' we stated our belief that it is of fundamental importance we celebrate the attributes of our rural people and apportion value to their contribution in determining Scotland's economic future.

In holding true to this statement, we have developed our recommendations based on five core principles identified during our consultation process. The five principles represent what those who live and work in rural Scotland believe are of fundamental importance in shaping a vibrant future:

1. A vibrant, sustainable and inclusive rural economy is a critical component in achieving Scotland's future ambitions.

We know from the figures overleaf that a smart, successful Scotland depends on a thriving and profitable rural economy.

National economic growth demands that we celebrate the mutually beneficial relationships between all of Scotland's economic contributors, whether rural or urban. For that reason, the long-term ambition must be to effectively mainstream rural economic policy within the national economic agenda. It should not simply be a consideration or after-thought, but an integral part of the decision-making process in delivering Scotland's economic success.

From our workshops and consultation, we know there is a strong desire for that change to be led by rural people, businesses and communities, with a less urban-centric approach to policy-making:

"We want to mainstream rural, we do not want it to be an add-on.
We want it to be part of the full conversation.

We want policy to be driven by people – regulations and
governance to be people-led, bottom-up."

Rural Thinks workshop participants

2. The value of shaping the future based on current thinking, cumulative learning and historic research, is recognised.

Rural Scotland has seen many policy documents published over the last 25 years, and while they have gone some way to putting rural issues on the agenda, deep-rooted structural challenges remain.

The landscape is cluttered with organisations striving for local, sectoral and regional goals, often without effective collaboration or cumulative learning, and often running counter to each other, resulting in a lack of progress.

Going forward, we must learn from what has gone before and draw on evidence-based research carried out by organisations such as Scotland's Rural College ( SRUC). We look forward to exploring how the new diagnostic tool developed by Scotland's Centre for Regional Inclusive Growth ( SCRIG) can assist in influencing data-led policy decisions.

We must also listen to rural-people, who can readily identify the challenges with infrastructure, business development and community resilience, as demonstrated throughout our consultation exercise.

3. Rural economic indicators need to accurately demonstrate social, environmental and economic contribution and impact, to allow robust and targeted investment decisions to be made.

To effectively mainstream rural economic policy and make strategic investment decisions, we need to improve the way we measure the rural contribution.

As we explained in our consultation paper, [3] traditional calculations of economic growth leave out huge areas of rural economics, such as:

  • the large number of non- VAT registered businesses and microbusinesses that are prevalent in rural areas
  • natural capital accounting, which measures the flow of natural resources
  • the social impact of economic activity in ensuring sustainable service provision and infrastructure

Rural Thinks workshop attendees and consultation respondents agreed, urging policy-makers to redefine growth in the rural context to reflect quality, not just scale:

"There needs to be some fresh thinking on how we properly express the
value and potential within [natural capital] with
respect to economic growth."
Rural Thinks workshop participants

We must therefore rethink our approach to measuring inclusive economic growth in rural areas and the economic impact of financial support and investment to Scotland.

4. Rural economic outcomes are linked to national outcomes to clearly demonstrate value and strategic importance.

Through the National Performance Framework, the Scottish Government has made clear its ambition to create a more successful country with opportunities for all to flourish, through increased wellbeing and sustainable and inclusive economic growth.

This is reinforced in the Enterprise and Skills Strategic Board's ambition that 'Scotland will be among the top quartile of Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development ( OECD) countries for productivity, equality and wellbeing, and sustainability.' [4]

Our message to Scottish Ministers is that our rural economy can help you achieve these ambitions.

We recommend aligning all rural economic development activities and support to these national ambitions, so that action and investment is focused on the same shared outcomes.

Moreover, leadership was a key theme across consultation responses, with participants identifying the need for a strong and clear commitment from the Scottish Government, and calling for greater scrutiny, measurement and allocation of responsibility. In our view, a coordinated cross-Ministerial approach is the best route to providing such leadership and accountability.

5. Recommendations provide clear direction on timescales, accountability and measurements of success.

The NCRA concludes that a vibrant, sustainable and inclusive rural economy can be achieved through the creation of a Rural Economy Framework ( REF). The REF will be aligned to the National Performance Framework, ensuring Scotland's rural economy is well-positioned to make a strong contribution to, and benefit from Scotland's economic growth.

As we discuss in the next section, the REF provides a clear description of our overarching vision and tells us what success looks like, through 10 outcomes-based approaches to addressing the development needs of the rural economy.

A Rural Economy Action Group, including representation from across government, and a newly-appointed Scottish Government officer to coordinate REF activity from within Scottish Government, will provide the accountability to ensure REF is delivered.

We have an opportunity to build on changing public perceptions about rural Scotland's economic potential, and present a new, positive and exciting image – one that celebrates rural Scotland's contribution to our national economic wellbeing. With leadership and commitment across government, we are confident we can achieve even more.

The NCRA call on Scottish Government to commit to the following recommendations:

1. Development of rural outcomes, indicators and actions that are embedded in the National Performance Framework and National Economic Strategy.
2. Development of a new approach and model for delivering support to the rural economy, aligned to the achievement of national outcomes.
3. The rural economic policy must be mainstreamed within the national economic agenda.
4. A Rural Economy Framework ( REF) is needed to guide activity to complete the transition by 2020.
5. A Rural Economy Action Group should be convened to drive forward progress, supported by a Scottish Government Officer to coordinate REF from within Scottish Government.
6. To ensure the Action Group can begin work immediately, a number of foundational actions are detailed below in the How To Make It Happen section, to inform an initial action plan. These are the things that need to be in place to make progress in delivering the REF. This plan should be reviewed annually.



Back to top