New Approaches to Rural Development

New Approaches to Rural Development


The National Economic and Social Council today launched a major report entitled `New Approaches to Rural Development'. The document includes an important new consultants' study of Irish rural development by Mr. Patrick Commins of Teagasc and Dr. Michael Keane of University College Galway. Drawing on this study, the Council's report identifies the origin and nature of the rural development problem, reviews past policies, and calls for further development of recent policy and local initiatives.

Value of Area-Based Partnerships

The Council strongly supports the role of area-based partnerships in rural development. Recent experience of this approach (such as LEADER, PESP Partnerships and FORUM) shows that it can promote rural development in ways which are not available to mainstream agencies acting in isolation. The partnership model has facilitated a learning process which strengthens economic and social life in rural areas. Such partnerships generate voluntary commitment, increase the co-ordination and effectiveness of policy, improve the design of national policy, and encourage the identification of new opportunities for economic activity.

The report identifies the key requirements for rural development as follows: an accurate audit of local needs, a strategic plan for development, co-ordination of various policy instruments and mobilisation of local interests. Neither central nor local government can, on their own, meet these information, co-ordination and consultation requirements. The Council believes that effective rural development needs a local development coalition of community groups, private interests, state agencies and government. Such local partnerships can provide a framework in which self interested collective action can contribute to the achievement of public policy objectives.

The Council shows that rural development policy must work on three fronts: `pre-development' (the animation of local groups and promotion of collective action), reduction of poverty and social exclusion, and enterprise development. NESC argues that future policy, centred on partnerships, should now give greater emphasis to adoption of a strategic planning approach, innovative projects and methods, building local capacity, and community and group projects.

Public Services in Rural Areas

The Council attaches great importance to public services in rural areas. It believes that the debate on services can be reoriented in a manner which is both more realistic and more productive. It recommends that active consideration be given to adoption of a unified, location-based, approach to service provision. Such an approach would require policy-makers and service providers to take account of the inter-relationships between services, such as health and transport, for example. This could involve establishment of "service centres" where public or essential local facilities are located together in a single complex. The Council suggests that the practicality of such an approach could be explored on a pilot basis. It emphasises that, given the vertical organisation of public administration, integration at local level can only happen if there is commitment to such an approach at the highest level.

The Council believes that there is considerable scope for flexibility and innovation in the provision of public services. The provision of services does not necessarily have to be undertaken solely by mainstream public service bodies. The Council believes that partnership between government agencies and voluntary/community bodies in the delivery of some services offers the potential for a more effective and integrated approach.

Organisation of Rural Development

Recent experiments - such as LEADER, PESP Partnerships and FORUM - highlight the organisational challenges which confront rural development. The Council proposes a framework for the discussion of the organisational, institutional and procedural issues which are now central to rural and local economic development. Using this framework, it clarifies these issues and identifies a set of principles which should guide the development of structures and institutions. These reflect the Council's strong endorsement of area-based partnerships of state, statutory, voluntary, local and community groups. In the Council's view, recent experience demonstrates the value of strong vertical links from a local partnership to government and state agencies. It argues that policy must act to enhance the capacity of local groups, central government and national agencies to participate effectively in partnerships for development.

In its report the Council examines a proposal, advanced in a recent report on the Structural Funds, that rural development policy should now be placed under the aegis of local authorities and central government. The Council finds that this is not an adequate proposal for designing the relationship between rural development and local government. An increased role for local authorities in rural and local development should only occur within the context of (a) proven performance of County Enterprise Boards in the formulation and execution of strategic enterprise development plans (b) partnerships of statutory, voluntary and local bodies and (c) reform of local government. and Settlement Policy The NESC report emphasises that the goals of rural development policy can only be met in the context of balanced regional development and national settlement patterns. Consequently, rural development requires a regional planning framework setting out key long-term objectives and strategies, and co-ordinating policies at a regional level. The Council believes that its work on rural development must now be followed by analysis of general settlement patterns, including an examination of the roles of towns and growth centres, and clarification of national policy goals concerning settlement.