GOVERNMENT departments are slowly becoming better at developing policies in a way that takes account of the implications for rural communities.

According to the Countryside Agency‘s rural proofing report published on Wednesday (July 7), Whitehall is slowly but steadily improving.

“Significant progress has been made over the three years since the Government made a commitment to rural proof policies as they were developed and asked us to assess and report on policy makers‘ efforts to ‘think rural‘,” said CA chair Pam Warhurst.

The help being offered to 12,000 rural children through SureStart and the roll-out of Job Centre Plus services to 110 rural local authorities were among the policies praised by the CA.

But not all departments have excelled in rural thinking.

Ms Warhurst expressed particular concern about the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister‘s approach to providing affordable housing to rural areas and its relaxation of the national housing target from 2006 for settlements with populations of less than 3000.

But CA chief executive Richard Wakeford was upbeat about the general trend that rural proofing has brought about.

“It takes time from a policy to be formulated to being reflected in delivery on the ground, but a culture change is happening,” he said.

“There is an increased awareness among government officials of the need for embedding rural concerns in government activities.”