Select Committee on Office of the Deputy Prime Minister: Housing, Planning, Local Government and the Regions Memoranda

Memorandum by Countryside Agency (GRI 31)


  Government policy to address deprivation, regeneration and disadvantage is based on three main approaches: mainstream programmes, special nationwide programmes, and increasingly, area targeted funding.

  Area-based approaches to tackling disadvantage were established to speed up progress on national priorities, in particular in education, health, crime and employment. In recent years the use of area-based programmes as a policy instrument has gained momentum. There are a variety of programmes from a number of government departments, including the New Deal for Communities, Health Action Zones, Education Action Zones, Employment Zones, Sure Start and others.

  Given the increasing number of Area-Based Initiatives (ABIs) and the considerable funding attached to them, the Countryside Agency has been concerned about whether they are capable of targetting rural disadvantage effectively and equitably.

  In the light of our research, based on evidence from and experience of various ABIs in operation, we reach the following two key conclusions:

    —  Area-Based Initiatives based on geographically defined areas may be suitable for tackling concentrations of disadvantage but they are not best suited to tackling rural disadvantage, because of the sparsity of rural populations, the dispersed pattern of rural settlements and the intermingling of households of often widely disparate incomes. There is also a danger that over concentration on ABIs disguises the failure of mainstream policies to deliver equitably in rural and urban areas. The Countryside Agency supports recent government moves to limit the number of new ABIs and would like to see the focus for tackling disadvantage delivered by improving mainstream services and through the targeting of particular sectors or groups (not areas).

    —  Where ABIs continue to be used, then specialised indices (which target rural deprivation) and a range of mechanisms to distribute funding (combining spatial targeting with thematic targeting) and flexibility of operation and delivery to meet varying rural circumstances would, in our view be a more efficient and equitable way of ensuring that such initiatives also address rural disadvantage.

  In the light of these conclusions, we recommend that:

    —  Government Departments should rural proof the ABIs for which they are responsible and as they develop new ones to ensure they take account of the needs and circumstances of rural areas and, in particular, that they do not disadvantage rural communities.

    —  Government should consider using rural indices of disadvantage, in addition to the Index of Multiple Deprivation, when targeting areas in order ensure rural disadvantage is identified. These could draw upon the set of indicators developed by the Countryside Agency which map rural disadvantage in England and which are designed to improve understanding of the social and economic problems which people face in rural areas and to show where such problems occur.

    —  While the ABI approach is useful in targeting concentrations of disadvantage, alternative forms of targeting are likely to be more effective in meeting rural disadvantage. For example, consideration should be given to thematic funding which is targeted on groups of people and communities rather than areas. Alternatively, government departments could "ring fence" a proportion of the funding available to meet needs in rural areas, and which can be applied more flexibly.

    —  "Bending" mainstream government expenditure is increasingly seen as an alternative to the ABI approach to targeting. However, this could be equally disadvantageous to rural areas if this is used to target concentrations of disadvantage. Additionally, the Neighbourhood Renewal Unit (NRU) approach to tackling disadvantage has focused on the "worst" 88 neighbourhood areas. While there are some rural areas in the 88 Neighbourhood Renewal Fund areas, a neighbourhood-based approach will inevitably exclude most rural areas and the NRU essentially oversee 88 ABIs. This has reinforced concerns about current approaches to tackling disadvantage. Any proposals for targetting disadvantage in future must be fully rural proofed.

    —  The lessons from the development of the SureStart Initiative and its application to rural children and families should be widely disseminated and the more flexible approach it demonstrates to the terms and operation of such schemes in rural areas adopted across government.

    —  The role of access to good quality green spaces in tackling disadvantage needs to be incorporated at the heart of policy priorities and should be taken into account in particular by those responsible for regeneration, health care, education, environment, sport and recreation and community safety.

  This submission focusses on the main issues for rural areas, including rural definitions; evidence of rural disadvantage; the targeting of ABIs; how ABIs can be made to target rural areas effectively; and the role the countryside and greenspace can play in urban regeneration.


  One of the problems experienced by policy-makers in developing approaches to rural disadvantage is the lack of a common definition of rural areas. The Countryside Agency is currently working with the Office for National Statistics and DEFRA to develop a new definition of rural areas. The existing definition most commonly used (SOCCODE) seeks to capture urban-rurality as a socio-economic concept using explanatory variables such as population density, share of employment in agriculture and use of public transport. Under this definition 4,076 (48 per cent) of the 8,414 wards in England can be defined as rural.


  "Social Exclusion is almost entirely an urban problem" (Anne Power, Poor Areas and Social Exclusion, 2000, Adviser to the Social Exclusion Unit).

  Social exclusion is often perceived as an urban issue and rural areas are seen as relatively affluent. Where there is recognition, the rural socially excluded are perceived as less deprived than their urban counterparts on the grounds that their physical and social environment is better. This perception may discourage the redirection of targeting of ABIs beyond urban areas. However, extensive research for the Countryside Agency has identified and highlighted the scale and nature of rural disadvantage and social exclusion. For example, 23 per cent of the 5.92 million rural households have income levels indicative of poverty—an income of less than 60 per cent of the average household income. (State of the Countryside 2002).


  Rural areas can be disadvantaged for a number of reasons by the Area-Based Initiative approach. The use of standard indicators to target ABIs; the ecology of rural disadvantage; the bidding systems; and the fungibility of expenditure all contribute to the needs of rural areas being misunderstood or overlooked.

(i)  Indicators

  Disadvantage in rural areas tends to be scattered and dispersed. It is often to be found side by side with affluence. Average figures will tend to hide increasing polarisation (eg in 1997 27 per cent of all households in Cotswold District had annual incomes of less than £7,000 whereas 33 per cent had incomes in excess of £25,000). Therefore, the standard indicators of deprivation which are used to target ABIs are less appropriate in identifying disadvantage in rural areas than in cities. Most disadvantage indicators do not reflect adequately rural needs and costs. The Index of Multiple Deprivation (IMD2000) does now include a "rural" indicator (access to services), but, if rural needs are to be fully reflected, it is important that policy makers consider indicators other than IMD2000 in targeting resources at the most "needy areas". The IMD draws on statistics that are more likely to measure aspects of deprivation that occur in urban areas. For example, the income domain is based largely upon means-tested benefits and there is evidence that a larger proportion of people in rural areas do not take up their full benefit entitlement. Nor does the IMD recognise the characteristics of rural employment, such as low-pay, part-time, seasonal, casual or underemployment and multiple jobs.

  The meaning and impact of some measures will also be different. For example, not having access to a car is a far more serious matter in rural than in urban areas. A greater proportion of low income households in rural areas own cars because of the lack of alternative, public transport services. The impact of using traditional indicators to target ABIs can be shown by the location of Employment Zones in England. Research for the Countryside Agency (Government Expenditure in Rural England, 2001, DTZ) has shown that 97 per cent of Employment Zone expenditure goes toward urban wards; three per cent goes towards mixed wards and wholly rural wards receive nothing. However, an analysis of Employment Zone funding, using the Employment Deprivation rankings in the Employment Domain of the IMD 2000 to measure "need", shows that, if Employment Zones were targeting the worst 25 per cent of wards on the IMD, rural areas should expect to receive at least 2.6 per cent of Employment Zone expenditure. The New Deal for Communities programme is targeted using the Index of Local Deprivation. None of the 39 New Deal for Communities areas is in rural areas.

(ii)  The Ecology of Rural Disadvantage

  Rural areas are by their nature less segregated than urban areas, for both social and geographical reasons. In contrast to urban areas, there are few spatial concentrations of deprivation. Where such concentrations do exist, they are often the result of the decline of particular industries ie former coalfield and tin mining areas. Moreover, wards and parishes are physically larger than in the cities, which will tend to make them less homogenous. To this extent, any effort to target high concentrations of poverty will systematically favour urban areas. For example, the 20 per cent most deprived wards on the IMD 2000 contain 53 per cent of the national population in receipt of Income Support or Job Seekers Allowance, but only 20 per cent of claimants who live in rural areas. Recent research by the London School of Economics (CASE, Targeting Social Exclusion, 2001) has highlighted how the ABI approach does not work well for rural areas, because it is both less efficient and less complete, eg area targeting in rural areas will inevitably benefit some residents who are not deprived (there is a degree of inefficiency), whilst missing out large numbers of disadvantaged people who are living elsewhere (there will be a lack of completeness). This contrasts with urban areas, where the concentrations of disadvantage make ABIs attractive to policy makers, where essentially you get more "bang for your buck". ie there are higher levels of efficiency (most residents are deprived) and completeness (large numbers are "captured"). The recent focus on tackling disadvantage in "neighbourhoods" has reinforced the impression of deprivation as an ecological characteristic, whereby the mere fact of living in a "poor area" makes you disadvantaged. Hence the focus has moved away from the individual and by definition rural areas.

(iii)  Bidding Systems

  Most ABI programmes require local involvement and funding. However, rural local authorities, especially in remoter areas, tend to be relatively poorly resourced, whilst often covering a large geographical area. There is also a lack of capacity in the rural voluntary sector. Research funded by the Agency shows that almost 75 per cent of rural voluntary organisations have an income of less than £10,000 per year. The rural sector is more heavily dependent on volunteers and there is less training, use of ICT and limited capacity to develop and work in networks. Research has found that ABIs which call for partnerships and bids are more difficult to respond to in rural areas and subsequently rural areas can miss out (Targeting of Special Initiatives—Cambridge Policy Consultants, 1999).

(iv)  Fungibility

  The allocation of resources through ABIs can carry an inherent risk. There is a danger that, while the initial allocation of ABI funding may represent a "fair allocation", the local expenditure is "fungible"—spending may be skewed away from the rural wards for which it was originally intended and towards urban wards. Countryside Agency research (Government Expenditure in Rural England, 2001, DTZ), which looked at the performance of Action Teams for Jobs in Cornwall noted that, while this was ostensibly a "rural" ABI, in practice the local focus was towards a social housing estate in the area. Such a scenario could be repeated in the "rural" Neighbourhood Renewal Fund areas. For example, will the funding to Wear Valley in practice concentrate its funding on Bishop Auckland rather than Stanhope?


  There are examples of where ABIs have been adjusted and made to work in rural areas. One such is the Government's SureStart scheme:

Case study—SureStart

  SureStart was established in 1998 as a key part of the Government's strategy to end child poverty by 2020. The target is to establish 500 programmes by 2004, with a total revenue of £0.5 billion a year. So far 260 programmes have been announced in four waves. In rounds one and two there were only three rural SureStart schemes. One of these was a Fenland pilot, the others were in East Cleveland and Bolsover (Derbyshire).

  The Countryside Agency commissioned some research to establish why there were so few rural Sure Starts and how rural children and their families could benefit from this important initiative. The study aimed to:

    —  develop a better understanding about why rural SureStart programmes weren't emerging from the bidding process

    —  to develop a better understanding of what would enable the authorities responsible for services in rural communities to nominate rural areas for a SureStart programme

    —  to identify the particular challenges rural Sure Start programmes would face.

  The research found that the critical factor was the Sure Start criteria, using the ILD—ward based indicators of deprivation which identified large clusters of disadvantage in urban areas but did not pick up the pockets of deprivation in rural areas.

  As a result four key changes were suggested to the targeting criteria:

    —  greater flexibility over numbers—because of lower absolute numbers of children under four rural areas failed to meet the specified thresholds

    —  a greater understanding of what a coherent neighbourhood was. The criteria were framed to identify an inner city estate or similar identifiable urban community. In rural areas a community can cover many square miles and encompass several villages or a market town and its surrounding hinterland

    —  a recognition that the existing service base was low in rural areas—so there was a lack of facilities on which to base SureStart programmes

    —  an appreciation that the cost of providing services in rural areas was high compared with a comparable number of children in urban areas.

  As a result of the research the SureStart National Unit made changes to the national criteria to enable rural areas to participate. Core SureStart principles of non-stigmatising and universal services were maintained, but the key changes were:

    —  longer planning timescales to reflect the time taken to achieve community involvement

    —  higher revenue cost per child to allow for higher cost of providing services in rural areas

    —  acceptance of a larger catchment area—to cover a number of villages, small towns and surrounding countryside.

  There are now ten rural SureStart programmes in Rounds three and four following this change to the criteria. Most of these programmes are still in the early stages of development and delivery, but what is interesting is the new approaches they are developing to service delivery and the problems of addressing disadvantage.

  From discussions with the SureStart National Unit it is clear that there is a lack of data available below ward level to identify disadvantage. Programme planners use a variety of sources of information—free school meals, benefit records and at risk registers but this information is not always available and often the most useful source of information is the local knowledge of health visitors or head teachers. SureStart have now introduced a new round of "Mini" rural SureStarts specifically targeted at rural areas to address the issue of pockets of deprivation.



  The provision of good quality green spaces can make an important contribution to regeneration and renewal projects, as well as enhancing the image of a neighbourhood or a whole town. In addition, there are economic benefits including helping to raise property values, creating quality townscapes and helping to build business and community confidence. It is a highly visible indicator of whether an area is an attractive place for people to live and for business to locate. Green space has a role to play in promoting healthy living and preventing illness, by providing places for walking, cycling and other physical activities and can provide opportunities for voluntary and community activities for all members of the community. Green spaces are also important for education and life-long learning, environment and ecology and heritage and culture.

  The role of green spaces in regeneration needs to be better understood and included in funding for regeneration projects, particularly in urban areas.

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