Rural Delivery Plan: Ministerial Working Group minutes - June 2023

Minutes of the meeting held on 28 June 2023.

Attendees and apologies


  • Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Finance Shona Robison
  • Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs, Land Reform and Islands Mairi Gougeon


  • Fiona Hyslop, Minister for Transport
  • Jenny Gilruth, Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills
  • Joe Fitzpatrick, Minister for Local Government Empowerment and Planning
  • Lorna Slater, Minister for Green Skills, Circular Economy and Biodiversity
  • Mairi McAllan, Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Net Zero and Just Transition
  • Michael Matheson, Cabinet Secretary for NHS Recovery, Health and Social Care
  • Neil Gray, Cabinet Secretary for Wellbeing Economy, Fair Work and Energy.
  • Paul McLennan, Minister for Housing
  • Richard Lochhead, Minister for Small Business, Innovation, Tourism and Trade
  • Shirley Ann Somerville, Cabinet Secretary for Social Justice


  • Alison Irvine, CEO Transport Scotland 
  • Amanda Fox, Head of Rural Economy 
  • Anne Aitken, DD of Performance, Delivery and Resilience
  • Annabel Turpie, Director of Marine Scotland
  • Anne Aitken, DD of Performance, Delivery and Resilience
  • Donald Inch, Rural Economy Policy Manager 
  • Graeme Beale, Analytical Unit Head
  • Gregor Irwin, DG Economy
  • John Burns, Chief Operating Officer NHS Scotland
  • John Paul Marks, Permanent Secretary 
  • Lewis Macaskill, Rural Economy Team Leader
  • Louise Macdonald, DG Communities
  • Mairi Macpherson, Deputy Director, Improving Health and Wellbeing
  • Sean Neill, Director for Local Government and Communities
  • Shirley Rogers, Director of Performance, Delivery and Resilience
  • Steven Lynch, Operations and Events Manager
  • David Signorini, Director of Environment and Forestry


  • Ken Thomson, DG, Constitution and External Affairs
  • George Burgess, Director of Agriculture and Rural Economy

Items and actions


DFM welcomed everyone to the meeting.

The DFM’s introduction set out how there is incredible opportunity in our rural, island and rural coastal communities to progress SG objectives, particularly in seizing economic opportunities and community benefits from the just transition to net zero.  

She emphasised that each portfolio was responsible for delivering for our rural communities.

DFM noted it often feels that there is a perception the SG is not sufficiently concerned about rural communities.  When reflecting it was clear that there is a lot that is being done and it was important to raise awareness on this whilst also acknowledging that there might be gaps where greater focus is needed.  

The purpose for the first meeting of the Rural Delivery Plan Ministerial Working Group was to; set out what we are intending to achieve, gain endorsement for the purpose of the Rural Delivery Plan, identify the next steps for driving this work forward, and gain endorsement of the collective role of the group in overseeing the Plan’s development and delivery.

Why a rural delivery plan? 

DFM highlighted that rural, island and rural coastal communities face long-standing and unique challenges. Given the complex nature of these challenges we needed proactive, cross-SG effort to support the realisation of the opportunities for rural Scotland.

DFM noted that there are many good initiatives being implemented by the Scottish Government. She highlighted a number of candidate areas for greater focus and specifically activity to repopulate rural and the need to retain young people in our rural communities which was key. DFM highlighted that we must be proactive and be able to demonstrate that investment is being targeted at the right places and having the right impacts.  

The Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs, Land Reform and Islands reinforced the message from the DFM. She reflected on how rural issues can sometimes be viewed as an ‘add on’ and this shouldn’t be the case.  She emphasised the importance of giving consideration to the broad range of sectors that are present in the rural economy through this work, alongside agriculture and fishing. She was clear that this was an exciting piece of work and it was essential to rebuild the positive narrative about our rural communities and the role that they play.  As part of this it was essential that all ministers ensured that the rural voice was being heard across all their portfolios.  The Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs, Land Reform and Islands also urged her ministerial colleagues to actively engage across Scotland’s rural communities during their summer visits to allow them to hear their views.

Action point

Cabinet Secretaries and Ministers to incorporate rural voices across their areas of responsibility to help inform and shape policy development and delivery eg through rural representation on key stakeholder groups. 

Developing and delivering Scotland’s Rural Delivery Plan

DFM identified that for this work to bring about transformational change for our rural communities we need to have a common understanding of where we are starting from.  The need for a baseline showing where delivery is currently taking place was discussed.  This would support decisions about where the Scottish Government could go further for rural communities. We need policy outcomes that are clear, ambitious and deliverable. 

This work would review the past, current, and future activity and ensure that SG’s investments are being targeted in a meaningful way.   The Plan would build on a wealth of knowledge and the voices of those in our rural communities that had been heard during work undertaken by the National Council of Rural Advisors, the Scottish Rural Parliament and the National Islands Plan. 

The Plan will bring coherence and should not be viewed as the end of the process, but the beginning.

DFM highlighted a number of areas that will be focused on as part of development of the Rural Deliver Plan as follows:

Understand context and trends

Develop a baseline indicator set/dashboard to give comprehensive, comparative and trend data.

Develop RDP policy outcomes (SG owned)

Drawing on the above, agree policy outcomes and indicators demonstrating transformational impact, supporting communication of a positive vision for the future. 

Review past, current and planned commitments, activity and stakeholder feedback 

(NCRA, Rural Parliament, Islands Plan) for opportunities, priorities and gaps to achieving the policy outcomes: this will help illustrate and articulate the substantial investment already being made and examine the appropriate balance of effort across and within sectors. 

Increase communications and undertake targeted stakeholder engagement

Ensure what is being delivered receives profile and is well communicated.  Further stakeholder engagement across ages to support Ministers to identify changes in priorities, gaps and shape policy.

Consider the implications of and links to key reforms and plans

Local governance review/New Deal for Business, Place-based approaches, Community Wealth-Building, public sector reform of service delivery; Climate Change Plan, Just Transition Plans, Islands Plan Review, Agricultural Reform Programme, Remote, Rural and Islands Housing Action Plan and more.

Maintain priority delivery activity and evolve coherent policy plans 

To address new priorities or gaps identified (including UKG engagement).

  • draft plan for publication: capturing evidence, desired outcomes, areas of priority, commitments and action
  • implement, maintain baseline monitoring, progress and impact review and adjust priorities accordingly (ie live document)

Particular points stressed included the need to ensure stakeholder engagement throughout the process and ensuring that we are communicating in a meaningful way so that we can demonstrate the work being done. 

During discussion DFM returned to the need to ensure rural representation across stakeholder groups and spoke explicitly about the need to have a systematic approach that ensures that rural considerations are taken account of. 

The Permanent Secretary reinforced the need for such an approach.  The SG is well placed to respond to this given the work being brought forward to develop the Rural Lens Toolkit that will be applied across policy areas. He highlighted the importance of the SG as an anchor organisation and as such it should model activities that would benefit rural areas for example, ensuring Scotland wide recruitment and work locations. 

Action point

Officials to continue to progress the development of the Rural Lens Toolkit in close collaboration with stakeholders and policy officials.

This action is currently underway and officials are working on the development of a ‘Rural Lens Toolkit’ to be applied to policy development to ensure that rural has been considered throughout the activities of Scottish Government. 

Discussion and reflections on value of the plan

DFM sought reflections from Cabinet Secretaries and Ministers on the development of the Rural Delivery Plan. 

Richard Lochhead, Minister for Small Business, Innovation, Tourism and Trade discussed that the Rural Delivery Plan as a good opportunity to tackle perceptions. There must be clear communication on the activity that is taking place to support rural communities. 

He reflected that there were instances where SG could have moved faster and been more effective at addressing issues. It was essential that SG learnt from this and did better. It was also important to be clear that the leavers necessary to unleash the full potential of the rural economy sometimes sat elsewhere eg with the UK Government and it was essential that the SG holds them to account and pushes them in areas where they were not delivering. 

DFM agreed and asked that Special Advisers compare and contrast between Scottish and UK Government policies/delivery programmes for rural Scotland. 

Action Point

Special Advisers to compare and contrast UKG and SG policies and delivery in rural areas to demonstrate any differences. 

Lorna Slater, Minister for Green Skills, Circular Economy and Biodiversity discussed the importance of speaking with a wide range of stakeholders across rural areas to ensure a representative voice is heard.  

DFM agreed and highlighted that there must be balance of engagement. 

DFM agreed with the Permanent Secretary and highlighted that apprenticeships, both within the Scottish Government and elsewhere are a powerful way to offer people within communities opportunities that help them stay in the areas they are from. Scottish Government is supportive of this approach.  

Ms Hyslop, Minister for Transport highlighted that the narrative on rural must be clear that rural communities are very much a part of Scotland and contribute greatly. Remote does not mean removed and we must take a place based approach to things.  

DFM agreed stating that the Scottish Government rules for everyone and that should be articulated clearly at every opportunity. There are also great people working across Scotland for the Government and their achievements should be highlighted.   

Paul McLennan, Minister for Housing discussed the commitment for a Remote, Rural and Islands Housing action plan to meet the housing needs of rural Scotland and to support the retention of people in our rural communities. Essential to providing new homes in places is having the necessary skills to build those homes and this emphasises the importance of the coordinated approach that this Plan will bring to delivering SG objectives.  

Action Point

For skills to be included in the Rural Delivery Plan.

Shirley Rogers, Director of Performance, Delivery and Resilience
raised her directorates commitment to support the development of the Rural Delivery Plan she also highlighted work being taken forward to support the resilience of rural and island communities.  

DFM summarised the key points of the discussion and reinforced the need to have cross portfolio support to ensure that the Rural Delivery Plan is implemented in a managed, monitored and deliverable way so delivering positive outcomes for our rural communities.

Terms of Reference

DFM asked the group for any comments on the Terms of Reference and sought their endorsement. The group endorsed the Terms of Reference without any changes.

Next steps

DFM brought the meeting to close discussing the immediate next steps focusing on communications over the summer period.

Officials will be developing indicators and reviewing past, present and planned activity prior to the next meeting of the group which will be scheduled in September.

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