Response 171570852

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1. The development of relevant Scottish Government mainstream policies should consider the effect upon the Rural Economic Strategy and its consequent policies.

• How should policy makers in Government make sure that the economic needs of rural Scotland are taken into account?
Statement 1 appears to presume that rural policy (except for the Rural Development Programme) is subject to “mainstreaming”. This implies that the distinctive needs and opportunities of rural areas are not catered for by a dedicated rural policy, and instead that all the main devolved areas of policy should be viewed through a ‘rural lens’. However, there is a risk of a loss of coherence due to a lack of connectivity between policies, and that genuine “place-based” development initiatives must take place outside this structure.

The 11th OECD Rural Development Conference, Edinburgh, April 2018, concluded that: “A new paradigm for rural development has emerged – one that rejects aspatial, ‘top-down’ industrial and sectoral development policies in favour of place-based, multi-sectoral, integrated development where communities and community-based actors have a strong role to play” (OECD, 2018: 14).” This new paradigm could be considered to be the foundation for how policy makers design a Rural Economic Strategy, and therefore how the Strategy and other policies can be held accountable to the economic needs of rural Scotland. Lessons could be learnt from the “broad rural development” governance, in place for many years in Finland (, and in particular the resourcing and powers of its Rural Policy Committee.

The Scottish Government Land Use Strategy (2016-2021) could play an important role in helping to connect an integrated approach to land (rural and urban) to the economic outcomes desired. We would welcome the NCRA looking at how this existing statutory Strategy can be more actively used to deliver the NCRA’s vision
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2. Create quality job opportunities (that are well paid, flexible, and purposeful) to promote skills and opportunities, but also deal with inequalities in the rural labour market (such as the gender pay gap).

What employment opportunities do we need to meet the current and future needs of our changing rural economy? Where should these be? (either by location and/or sector)
The Introduction to the consultation document notes the diversity of Scotland’s rural economy. Reflecting this, the response regarding the type of employment opportunities that should be supported will vary from place to place, and region to region, following the principles of Smart Specialisation approach (OECD, 2013). Most areas of rural Scotland could benefit from more knowledge economy jobs, jobs in activities which add value to local products, services which are no longer tied to urban locations, light manufacturing of easily transportable high value products as well as jobs that exploit the natural capital assets of the area.

Arguably, such jobs are required in those areas which are experiencing out-migration and a decline in the working age population due to age structure legacy effects (see In comparison, accessible rural areas are experiencing population growth and diversification of employment. The Mapping of Rural Socio-Economic Performance by James Hutton Institute, under the Scottish Government Strategic Research Programme provides indicators and maps that illustrate the different types of rural areas in Scotland, representing a mix of local opportunities and constraints. In particular, account should be taken of the difference between rural areas and small towns which are accessible to major urban areas, and those which are more remote (

Current and future changes to the rural economy include the restructuring of farm and other land-based businesses, due to the influence of modern technology and other efficiency drivers, policy reform, and potential impacts of Brexit. Encouraging new entrants into agriculture is a contested issue but of critical concern to the future rural economy of Scotland. A recent report published by the Scottish Land Commission (McKee et al., 2018) describes the types of issues relating to access to land, and solutions which could increase opportunities for new entrants to farming, including opportunities for joint ventures for new entrants and existing farmers/landowners. Such opportunities for supporting new entrants to agriculture, and support existing farm businesses should be considered for incorporation into the Rural Economic Strategy.


McKee, A., Sutherland, L-A., Hopkins, J. and Flanigan, S. 2018. Increasing the Availability of Farmland for New Entrants to Agriculture in Scotland. Final report to the Scottish Land Commission. James Hutton Institute. pp76.
OECD, 2013. Innovation-driven Growth in Regions: The Role of Smart Specialisation, OECD. pp. 202.
• How do we tackle the inequalities we face in rural Scotland? i.e. challenges faced due to age, gender, socio-economic, educational and ethnic background
In addition to the types of inequalities identified by the NCRA the following are also critical to those living and working in rural Scotland:

o Housing inequalities, i.e. access to good quality, energy efficient, and affordable rural housing, that meet the needs of communities.

o Community capacity building and development support, in particular, outwith the area of Highlands and Islands Enterprise.

o Access to land for farming or housing, or for the establishment of other land-based activities. This can be due to concentrated patterns of land ownership.

o Inequalities in connectivity, including the variability and largely poor quality access to broadband and mobile phone signals across rural Scotland, inhibiting business development, tourism opportunities, education, and opportunities for innovative healthcare provision.

o Inequality in the availability and cost of fuel (as evidenced by rural fuel poverty) (see Roberts et al., 2015).


Roberts, D., Vera-Toscano, E. & Phimister, E. (2015). Fuel poverty in the UK: Is there a difference between rural and urban areas? Energy Policy. Vol. 87, pp216–223.

3. Build on existing work to gather evidence and data to measure the true value of the rural economy and monitor its growth.

Going beyond the economic contribution of rural businesses, what positive examples of social (i.e. community cohesion), cultural (i.e. protection of heritage and traditions) and environmental (i.e. carbon reducing) impacts of rural businesses can you think of?
Research projects working with rural communities and land managers, such as the Scottish Government Strategic Research Programme (e.g., and EU H2020 SIMRA ( use a broad definition of multiple benefits arising from how natural and social assets are used in rural settings.

The impacts of rural businesses (and other organisations such as voluntary groups, publicly funded projects with the potential to develop as businesses) include:

• Developing an intangible sense that this is a place where things happen;
• Help to keep high streets and town centres alive, busy and foster a sense of local identity rather than being like any other place;
• Encourage investment in local energy/decarbonisation;
• Lead to brand identity (for example, ways in which the Cairngorms National Park has created a brand for local businesses and products;;
• Contribute to culture, education and awareness raising by bringing visitors and creating events (e.g. Deveron Projects (formerly Arts) in Huntly is an example of a local business that works with economic and cultural groups locally and internationally, helping to facilitate discussion and thinking on how national and international agendas are shaping local experiences;
• Encourage networking through, for example The Development Trusts Association, and Local Community Alliance, which are valuable networks for sharing experiences, creating ideas and combating isolation that some remote rural communities might experience;
• Enabling socialising across generations, providing opportunities for volunteering, sponsoring voluntary events and activities, helping to maintain greenspaces and other public areas, providing points of interest for visitors, having a visible presence within the community.

The definition of ‘rural business’ should be clarified. Rural businesses can include social enterprises, public/private partnerships, community asset transfer, community benefits schemes, as well as private businesses.

Rural businesses which support the interests of an individual, a family or shareholders, may offer only limited benefits to the wider rural community. The transfer of funds into and out of local areas is a characteristic of some rural businesses. Other rural businesses provide tangible benefits to a community, beyond providing jobs, and give rise to different outcomes in the places where they occur. In many cases such businesses are invested in supporting their local communities through the values they hold. For example, many such businesses actively seek to employ local people, to employ the services of local tradespeople and favour economic inputs from other local businesses.

Whilst all sectors wish to remain economically viable, it is clear that many businesses and residents also value their sense of place, bonds of reciprocity, traditions and links with the past, opportunities for formal and informal education, and well-being arising from interactions with the natural environment (e.g. Initiatives such as the Natural Capital Protocol illustrate how economic sustainability can, and should, be linked to protecting natural assets and investing in employees and customer satisfaction. The mainstreaming of natural capital accounting and the ecosystem services provided would be appropriate to the outcomes of businesses in rural areas.

Businesses that build on the liveability of rural places (pubs, cafes, meeting points) can increase/enhance community cohesion through providing new opportunities for local networks to grow. Likewise businesses that lead events can bring people together and increase community cohesion. These benefits can be measured by taking a broader and more qualitative assessment of impacts – social, cultural, economic, educational impacts of different types of rural enterprise and businesses – in particular through speaking to the end users of these businesses and services.
• What specific outcomes of rural businesses should be the measured and why?
It would be desirable to assess and monitor the degree to which rural businesses interact locally and further afield. An appropriate balance between local embeddedness and access to global knowledge sources is a key factor in the growth of rural enterprises. Currently, there are no secondary data sources by which this can be assessed or monitored. An example of a recent attempt, using primary data collection is the paper by Copus et al. (2016).

The scientific literature on resilience provides one theme for the types of outcomes of rural businesses that should be assessed. For example,

a. Healthy and Engaged People – relating to physical and psychological well-being of individuals, strong and healthy personal relationships, connection to nature, learning and sharing new skills;

b. Creating a More Localised Economy Within Ecological Limits – relating to the creation of an economy which positively stewards the local environment and resources, enhances biodiversity, cuts carbon dependence and creates meaningful locally based livelihoods that are less dependent on fossil fuels;

c. Cross-Community Links – relating to links and partnerships with groups in other communities, with support networks and across sectors (including public sector/government and business);

d. Building a Creative, Inclusive culture – relating to how a community addresses social inclusion, social justice/equity and support for social and technical innovation and openness to creating/exploring different/novel ways of working.


Copus, A., Hopkins, J. and Creaney, R. (2016). The Transaction Footprints of Scottish Food and Drink SMEs. European Countryside, 8:3 227-249.

4. Encourage future entrepreneurship by ensuring the Scottish Government’s rural skills action plan meets the needs of the Rural Economic Strategy.

What skills are required to have a vibrant rural economy?
The types of skills required for a vibrant rural economy are likely to differ around Scotland depending upon local assets and opportunities. There is an increasing recognition that curricula for vocational education and re-skilling need to be less generic and more tailored to the needs of the local sectoral structure. This was the subject of discussion at the 11th OECD Rural Development Conference, Edinburgh, April 2018, at which good examples were cited from the Uist Islands, where well targeted training had provided opportunities for the employment of young people on Caledonian MacBrayne Ferries, in local fishing, tourism, and hospitality activities.

Research into delivering sustainable and integrated land or rural governance and management is showing that ‘partnership’ working is often at the heart of many approaches. However, working in partnership (whether through formal or informal arrangements) requires a variety of skills including those in finance, project management, contract development and management, leadership, evaluation, and soft power (to ensure delivery when one has responsibility without authority).

Whilst there is guidance on good practice for partnership working, it is not something that is explicitly taught, or sufficiently resourced in many rural development or other projects. The NCRA could explore this topic in greater depth through promoting existing guidance, and identifying accredited training or encouraging existing further education providers to add it to their curriculum. This point is also relevant to Questions 5 and 6.
How do we best ensure that people of all ages, genders, areas, socio-economic, educational and ethnic backgrounds receive appropriate support?
The Scottish Government’s Women in Agriculture Taskforce is seeking to progress the recommendations arising from the research report (Shortall et al., 2017) ‘Women in Farming and the Agriculture Sector’. These recommendations included how best to overcome barriers facing women in contributing to and leading agricultural businesses and organisations, including the provision of training that seek to build confidence, and overcome the challenges and inequalities facing women in agriculture, examples of which include the training sessions facilitated by the Farm Advisory Service.


Shortall, S., Sutherland, L-A., McKee, A. and Hopkins, J. 2017. Women in Farming and the Agriculture Sector. Report for the Scottish Government. pp. 187.

5. Develop opportunities for the businesses of urban and rural Scotland to share ideas and work together.

5 How do you think we could do this? (for example through schools or membership organisation groups)
No response
5 Facilitating learning/sharing between urban and rural areas to improve and have a better understanding of the opportunities that are available would be new for Scotland. What would interest you in this approach? Are there any benefits/drawbacks?
An insight to how rural populations understand the influence of urban populations on rural development was obtained in the Aberdeenshire Rural Land Use Pilot project (Davidson et al., 2015). Such influences include: urban citizens who vote on issues which impact on all Scotland/UK; taxpayers who finance projects and subsidies; consumers of products and services (especially tourism and recreation); members of NGOs (e.g. National Trust, RSPB); urban-rural commuting; transfer earning (e.g. pensions, rent, etc.); volunteers who work in rural settings during holidays.

Opportunities to share ideas and closer working between rural and urban Scotland could come from:

i) The concept of “business accelerators”, with its emphasis upon peer to peer learning. However, the majority of such organisations in Scotland are based in urban areas. Therefore, we suggest the addition to the model of an urban-rural knowledge exchange dimension.

ii) The NCRA considering common themes between its conversations and other deliberations held in Scotland recently, e.g. around Agricultural policies; Independence, National Planning Framework, National Economic Forum. For example, engaging with the Climate Change Challenge Fund might provide a natural network of exchange between urban and rural communities.


Davidson, J., Birnie, I., Irvine, R. J., Gimona, A., Blackstock, K., Baggio, A., Byg, A., Donnelly, D., Somevi, J., Aalders, I., Dunn, S. and Sample, J. 2015. Aberdeenshire Land Use Strategy Pilot Final Report. Prepared on behalf of the Project Board of the Aberdeenshire Land Use Strategy Pilot.

6. Create communities of interest (digital, physical) where businesses and people can come together to solve problems, share ideas and understand opportunities.

Is there any place that you can think of in your community where people already do this? Can you please tell us about it?
No response
What might be the benefits of this approach?
Both digital and face-to-face strategies are required to bring together communities of interest. The most important ingredient is a community champion, or champions, which will take forward the development of these communities and actions around them. This requires finding people within the community that have the right mix of skills (including, for example, the ability to apply for funding to run various local initiatives; good digital skills, etc.). Rural development could focus on methods to identify these people, and work with these to co-develop, along with the community, initiatives which will lead to increased cohesion at a local level and shared goals and visions for local development.

The significance of such champions and associated local governance of rural development initiatives which are examples of social innovation is being studied in the EU H2020 SIMRA project (Social Innovation in Marginalised Rural Areas;, coordinated by James Hutton institute, which includes case studies relating to renewable energy, woodlands, and health provision in rural Scotland.

There is emerging interest in the EU and OECD concept of Smart Villages, and their potential for revitalising rural services through digital and social innovation ( The NCRA may find benefit from tracking the progress on the Smart Villages concept, and explore how ideas and lessons can be implemented in Scotland.

For further information, a recent issue of a journal dedicated to ‘Rural Resilience in a Digital Society’, Journal of Rural Studies, Vol. 54, August 2017 ( These papers bring together current evidence and thinking regarding ICT, infrastructure and digital divides, and how broadband internet access has provided opportunities in different rural places and overlapping rural sectors including business, health, heritage and local services.
What things would your local community need to help people in your local area come together?
No response

7. Help ensure there are the same opportunities and access to services between urban and rural areas.

For people living and working in rural areas there are often big differences compared to urban areas in what services might be available (things like broadband, childcare, transport, community development etc.).. What do you need to enable you to choose to live and work in rural Scotland?
The James Hutton Institute’s work under Research Deliverable 3.4.1 of the Scottish Government’s RESAS Strategic Research Programme is focusing on service provision in sparsely populated areas of Scotland (Wilson and Copus, 2018). The research is studying the constraints placed on service delivery by demographic change and reductions in local authority budgets, and is beginning to highlight transport, digital infrastructure, primary and secondary education, care for the elderly and specialist services as particularly sensitive to a low population density. The availability and accessibility of these services is likely to have a tangible impact on households and businesses.

Findings reveal different trends in service delivery between sparsely populated, rural and urban areas over the past decade. In particular, the capacity of day care services for children and care homes for the elderly has fallen in sparsely populated areas, while it has grown in the rest of Scotland. This is a continuing trend and the gap in provision is widening. Set against population projections (Copus, 2018), this has implications for the future sustainability of Scotland’s more remote rural communities. In addition, residents and businesses experience service delivery differently depending on their individual circumstances, especially around income and health. These findings will be made be available at

Consideration is required of the ways that rural services can overcome traditional rural challenges faced by dispersed populations with limited service provision. Rural areas are not ubiquitous and therefore addressing service provision in rural communities is likely to include a suite of options such as: social innovation, digitisation, and governance options that empower and enable rural communities to overcome the diversity of challenges faced.

The urban-rural divide is still a very big issue for those living and working in rural areas. As well as the big differences in access to broadband Internet connectivity, there is a wide gap in digital skills between urban and rural areas, exacerbated by demographic factors such as the increasingly ageing populations found in rural regions. There is a need to deliver broadband access to all, employing a range of Internet technologies (satellite, 4G-enabled etc.) to connect the most remote parts of rural Scotland (including the islands). Without such digital connectivity, people in rural and remote rural Scotland cannot function economically. Businesses will fail (are already failing), because they are unable to respond to their clients, unable to reach wide (e.g. global) markets, and unable to compete with businesses in urban centres. The same is true for the diffusion of technological innovations and tools in rural areas, due to the skills gap. Such innovations spread more slowly, exacerbating the skills gap and putting rural businesses and individuals at a disadvantage in the global marketplace.

A more place-based approach could enable more innovative solutions to emerge which are not constrained by sectoral policies. This includes the need for policies in rural areas to be sufficiently flexible to respond appropriately and without constraints to meet rural challenges in the most effective way.

It is also important to consider the long-term sustainability of innovative community actions and to ensure that they are sufficiently supported and enabled to provide long-term and resilient community responses. A range of governance options are required in rural areas to ensure that each place can reach its potential.


Wilson, R. and Copus, A. (2018). Services of General Interest (SGI) in the Scottish Sparsely Populated Area (SPA): Introduction, Classification by Delivery Mode, and Selection of Exemplar Services. Working Paper 4 of RESAS RD 3.4.1, available at

Copus, A. (2018). Demographic Projections for the Scottish Sparsely Populated Area (SPA) 2011-2046.

8. Make sure Government policies, regulations, planning and support mechanisms help local businesses.

What types of policies, regulations, planning and business support need to be strengthened or removed to help a wide variety of small and micro businesses in rural areas?
There is evidence of a desire to make the suite of mechanisms (policies, regulations, planning and support) more coordinated and to follow a clear overarching vision. One can argue that such a vision exists, through Scotland’s Economic Strategy and National Performance Framework, but the threads connecting the mechanisms as implemented on the ground and the vision are not always visible.

Work in the Scottish Government Strategic Research Programme (2016-21) has identified a perception amongst stakeholders that the policy vision for rural land based businesses is confusing and there can be conflict between policy instruments, and that more could be done to present a more integrated and streamlined approach.

There is a requirement for awareness raising and training for the deliverers of the mechanisms, and an explicit focus on guidance materials for instruments that deliver environmental, economic and social benefits. At present, it is apparent that some individuals within implementing agencies work hard to go beyond statutory approaches to the use of such instruments, but this is voluntary and piecemeal.
Can you think of any problems in transport, housing, social care and digital infrastructure that prevent economic growth for your industry sector, business or community?
In work in the Scottish Government Strategic Research Programme (2016-21), stakeholders and community leaders identified all of the areas of transport, housing, social care and digital infrastructure as fundamental to the success of rural businesses and communities. Transport and broadband were considered key factors that can encourage or deter the return of younger generations to more remote rural communities. Lifestyle factors – social, cultural, leisure – are also important in contributing to an attractive, vibrant way of rural life.

In particular, issues of distance and transport were seen as underpinning, with the ability to do business and access services contingent upon the frequency, reliability and affordability of ferries and flights. High speed, reliable internet connectivity was identified as key to effective service delivery into the future, innovation, and the attraction and retention of a working age population. This is true for all businesses not just those directly involved in producing digital content, and has the potential to create a level playing field for businesses in peripheral areas.

9. Make sure that community resources that contribute to our economy (like tourist attractions) also deliver benefits to their communities.

Can you think of any examples of resources in your community e.g. that attract visitors and make money but that do not benefit the community?
No response
Are there examples of attractions in your community that you would like to promote? What could help you do this?
No response

10. Please tell us below if there are any key issues you believe we may have missed.

Please tell us below if there are any key issues you believe we may have missed
i) Diversity of rural Scotland. As noted in response to Question 2, apart from a reference to the diversity of rural Scotland early in the consultation document, too little recognition is given to the significance of the many types of rural areas in Scotland. At its simplest the distinction between accessible and remote/sparsely populated areas is crucial. As reported by Copus and Hopkins (2015), with reference to a range of indicators, the accessible parts of rural Scotland are generally prospering, whilst the remote areas tend to lag behind. This distinction is very important to the extent that rural policy aims to address poor performance or low growth, or about realising potential

ii) Local democracy. There is limited discussion of local democracy, planning decisions, and access to local resources. These issues are linked and are fundamental to the development of a thriving rural economy. Current research from the James Hutton Institute is showing that rural communities do not feel empowered to take action about given topics. This is because they often do not have access to local assets or resources to make change happen, the planning system is difficult for most citizens to understand and influence, and local forums for discussing issues are absent or controlled by those with vested interests. Communities that do take action may have to devote many years to see initiatives come to fruition (for example, Huntly and District Development Trust took 7 years to get a single community turbine through to operational).

iii) Digitisation. Digitisation has the potential to assist with many of the challenges of current rural service, and of opening new opportunities. There are risks of increasing the inequalities in service provision between rural and urban influenced areas if access to digital opportunities is not addressed equally.


Copus, A. and Hopkins, J. 2015. Mapping Rural Socio-Economic Performance (SEP). Executive Summary of Report for Rural Communities Team, Food, Drink and Rural Communities Division, The Scottish Government.

This response was compiled from materials from:
D. Miller, K. Blackstock, A. Copus, M. Currie, L. Dinnie, A. McKee, M. Nijnik, A. Pinker, D. Roberts, L. Townsend and R. Wilson.

The James Hutton Institute ( is one of the Scottish Environment, Food and Agriculture Research Institutes (SEFARI). SEFARI Gateway is the knowledge exchange and impact hub for SEFARI. We can be found at and @SEFARIscot.

About you

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David Miller

Are you responding as an individual or an organisation?

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Ticked Organisation

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James Hutton Institute