Rural Economy and
Rural Economy and Connectivity is a diverse portfolio that has responsibility for developing rural Scotland’s economy and wider connectivity (physical and digital) through working with the public, private and third sectors and with local communities. It includes responsibility for agriculture and crofting, connectivity – including transport and digital broadband coverage – as well as cross-government coordination on islands, fisheries and aquaculture, food and drink, forestry and rural communities.
The majority of portfolio spend is focused on delivering improvement in accessibility through investment in transport, extending broadband coverage and by funding schemes that support and build local growth in the rural economy. Such investment is targeted to ensure key sections of the population, such as older and disabled people, are able to access sustainable and reliable transport options, and to support rural, island and coastal communities and sectors.
Key Strategic Priorities
Our overarching aim is to grow the rural economy and support wider connectivity through an integrated approach to inclusive economic growth.
Transport infrastructure is a key area where improving connectivity between our cities, rural communities and centres of economic activity is vital to boosting productivity and competitiveness. This budget continues the significant investment in Scotland’s railways to support a safe and high-performing railway through the delivery of new and better services, while our support for air and ferry services will help support plans for more autonomy for our island communities.
We are committed to building on the success of our existing broadband investment programme, which will deliver fibre access to at least 95 per cent of premises by the end of 2017. We have set a new commitment to extend coverage even further to ensure that all premises in Scotland are able to access superfast broadband by 2021.
We will continue to manage our natural resources for the benefit of Scotland. This includes delivering the reformed Common Agriculture Policy ( CAP), continued sustainable fisheries management and protection of fishing opportunities for both inshore and offshore fisheries as well as management of forests.
We will continue to support community engagement and ownership of land, marine and forests for community benefit, recreation and access. In the coming year, an Islands Bill reflecting the unique needs of Scotland’s islands will provide more power and protection for island communities, including measures to ensure other relevant policy matters are ‘island proofed’ in the future.
We will continue to support Highlands and Islands Enterprise to develop growth sectors; improve competitiveness, productivity and support fair work; attract new investment; and work with the financial sector to improve access to finance.
Equality Implications Of The Draft Budget 2018-19
The portfolio has been able to protect spend in a number of areas and increase funding in others. These policies will have positive implications for equality groups, including disabled people, older people and others dependent on public transport.
We are committed to providing free bus travel to those who need it most through the Concessionary Travel Scheme. This currently provides free bus travel on local or Scottish long-distance buses for Scotland’s older people and disabled people. The scheme has positive impacts on the physical and mental wellbeing of cardholders, reducing isolation and helping disabled users to access employment and educational opportunities. In 2018, we will work in partnership with others to develop a pilot scheme of free bus travel for young modern apprentices.
We will protect our funding of Road Equivalent Tariff to all routes in the Clyde and Hebrides, and take action to reduce fares on ferry services to Orkney and Shetland, ensuring that island communities can travel on lifeline ferry services at an affordable cost. The scheme particularly benefits islanders on low incomes. It also assists young people below the age of 16 who pay an even lower fare.
Funding for Active Travel will be doubled from £40 million to £80 million in 2018-19, with a further £6 million for sustainable travel and car-sharing programmes. This significant increase in investment in sustainable and active travel will support efforts to ensure that cheaper, healthier and greener forms of travel are available to more people. We will ensure funding is targeted to tackle transport poverty, providing lower cost mobility options such as car sharing and bike ownership and hire. This will benefit those with lower incomes and less access to essential services by public transport.
We are committed to removing barriers to accessibility on the Trunk Road network, and will allocate up to £2 million in 2018-19 specifically for this purpose. This will help to improve access for disabled road users. We will continue to engage with equality groups represented on our Roads for All Forum to ensure equality implications are considered in this work going forward.
We will continue to support bus services across Scotland through the Bus Service Operators’ Grant ( BSOG). This will help to deliver an extensive bus network and keep fares lower, benefiting those who, due to low income, disability or choice, use the bus relatively more than they use other modes of transport.
We will continue to fund the Air Discount Scheme and the lifeline Public Service Obligation air services to Barra, Campbeltown and Tiree. This will ensure that those living in some of the most remote parts of Scotland continue to benefit from reduced air fares.
Through our funding of the ScotRail franchise, we will continue to deliver a range of fare offers to customers, including reduced fares for job seekers and the newly employed on all routes. Our funding also includes the Minor Works budget which provides £350,000 a year to improve facilities across the network, promoting rail use by disabled people and older people.
We will continue to deliver the priorities identified through our Accessible Travel Framework, removing barriers which prevent people from travelling or make their journeys an unpleasant experience. In 2018-19, we will focus on providing accessibility training to customer-facing staff, tackle hate crime through our pilot charter, and strengthen the governance of the framework by creating a Scottish Strategic Travel Accessibility Board.
We are committed to extending the Scottish Government’s superfast broadband programme so that, by the end of 2017, we will see at least 95 per cent of premises connected to the fibre broadband network, with all premises able to access superfast broadband by end 2021. This will particularly impact those living in rural communities by providing increased opportunities for employment and learning. This investment also opens up greater opportunities for individuals with accessibility issues which can have a positive impact on people’s quality of life.
The core budget for Highlands and Islands Enterprise is being maintained for 2018-19. This will allow the agency to continue its work to support fragile rural communities, and to continue current activity which promotes equality. This includes increasing women’s contribution to economic growth through developing leadership and entrepreneurship capability and addressing occupational segregation; supporting young people across the region through placement and development opportunities; and through implementing Scotland’s Youth Employment Strategy.
The 2018-19 budget for Forestry Commission Scotland will increase, the majority of which will support the creation of new woodlands, increasing opportunities across the country for communities to access these. The budget for Forest Enterprise Scotland will decrease, therefore investment in formal recreation trails will be focused on sustaining facilities that are most inclusive and have the potential to provide additional benefits, such as improving the gender balance of those who use them and improving access for families.
Funding received from the EU to support LEADER projects will increase in 2018-19 to over £22 million from around £10 million in 2017-18. LEADER encourages rural communities and businesses to come together to develop and implement their own Local Development Strategies according to local priorities. As a result of the planned uplift in funding, Local Action Groups will be able to support additional projects this year, such as those in rural and coastal Scotland that most need support. These projects include the planning of services for older people and other more vulnerable groups and those which enable younger people to find employment.
The Less Favoured Area Support Scheme ( LFASS) will maintain its level of support in 2018-19. This scheme supports farming and local communities in Scotland’s least profitable and most environmentally-challenged areas, including much of the Highlands and Islands.
The assessment of the 2018-19 Rural Economy and Connectivity Budget highlights its positive impacts on equality and reflects our ongoing commitment to the rural and island economy, broadband and transport.