In late 2014, FRIGSE sent a letter to Mr Dan Rogerson, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at Defra, to press the case for continued funding of the Rural Community Councils across England and for their umbrella body, ACRE.
We argued that for the RCCs and ACRE to have major cuts to their funding would be a retrograde step in terms of Defra’s priorities. As recently as 13 November, Lord de Mauley at Defra indicated at the ACRE conference that supporting rural communities was one of the four key priorities for the Department. One way in which Defra has pursued this priority has been by underpinning the network of RCCs across England. This network helps communities to help themselves; in particular, it helps to find community solutions to service delivery problems when small population numbers mean market solutions may falter.
The review of the network which Defra undertook last year showed that it delivers significant added value, innovation and creation of employment through community-based social enterprises. The RCCs had reaffirmed their willingness to work with Defra to help ensure that every government department can test their ideas and policies for their impact on rural people and also that it has a local partner with whom they can work on means of delivery. It is also ideally placed to ensure that all Defra’s other programmes and agencies deliver with the positive engagement of rural communities throughout England. From our perspective, we found it difficult to see how the Government would be able to continue to support rural communities adequately if all funding is removed from ACRE and the RCCs.
In replying to FRIGSE, the Minister has now told us that funding will be maintained for the coming financial year. Defra is now negotiating a service agreement with ACRE and the RCCs for this period.
But Defra is unable to provide any commitment yet for funding for future years, so it might be that ACRE and the RCCs will be fighting for their existence again in a year’s time.