New research has highlighted lessons for policy-makers to be learned in targeting funds for rural regeneration.The Economic and Social Research Council has found that an initiative begun by the previous Government but still operating, has resulted largely in disappointment and division within communities.
Although some local groups worked together successfully in the development of employment opportunities and community services, the basic tenets of the Rural Challenge approach – competitiveness, public-private partnership and community strengthening – has so far failed to take root, says the ESRC.
Dr Jo Little, at Exeter University, who carried out the independent assessment, says policymakers need to learn from the difficulties experienced in rural areas in organising a competitive bid, and in reaching consensus on the scope of any bid.
Rural Challenge was designed to engender a greater sense of community, more involvement of business and less dependence on local authorities outside the major urban areas. The research found that none of these aims was necessarily achieved. Indeed in two of the three grant areas studied serious divisions arose within the communities as “differing needs and expectations emerged amongst rural people and different degrees of ownership and control of the schemes became apparent”.
The ESRC is the UK’s largest independent funding agency for research into social and economic issues.