CAMPAIGNS: Rural concerns in an urban setting - Local Government

Client: The Most Sparsely Populated Council Group

Client: The Most Sparsely Populated Council Group

PR Team: Shandwick Public Affairs

Campaign: Rural Services Partnership

Timescale: June 1998 ongoing

Budget: pounds 20,000

The Local Government Association (LGA) was established three years ago

to represent the interests of county councils, district councils and

metropolitan councils.

Under the umbrella of the LGA, special interest groups were formed.

One of these, the Most Sparsely Populated Council Group (MSPCG), is

comprised of local authorities with less than one person per hectare

within their boundaries. These 50 English local authorities were

concerned that rural areas would lose out to their urban couterparts in

the Government’s 1999/2000 local government financial settlement.


To defend the existing grant allocation and to raise rural concerns

prior to the 1999/2000 grant round, which would be debated during 1998.

To publicise the concerns of the sparsely populated areas at a time when

other rural pressure groups were stealing the limelight on issues such

as hunting with dogs.


Shandwick looked to simplify the issues surrounding local government

finance to the public, the media and local stakeholders, such as parish

councils, voluntary organisations and the National Farmers’ Union.

The MSPCG was given a shorter, punchier name - the Rural Services

Partnership (RSP) - and its first task was to produce a three-point

charter. The charter’s objective was to achieve services equal to those

enjoyed by more urban communities, to campaign in a non-political way

and to promote immediate action for the most deprived rural areas.

To bring rural concerns alive to the public, Shandwick asked the

producers of rural soap operas, including Peak Practice and Emmerdale,

to highlight major rural concerns in their storylines.

The 50 press offices of the RSP were linked up and Shandwick distributed

template press releases to use in all communications to ensure the

integrity of the message.

The press was particularly targeted at a local level and supplied with

research from Government quango the Rural Development Commission. This

pointed to a decline in essential services.

During the summer of 1998, holidaymakers were encouraged to send

postcards from Britain’s beauty spots to environment secretary John

Prescott, asking him for more funding for vital services.

A rally was organised in London in autumn 1998 for rural MPs to show

their support.

LGA finance consultant Rita Hale was commissioned to report on how the

current funding system works against rural areas.

Her report included the need to introduce a special factor in the grant

allocation to cover the expense of providing domiciliary care in rural

areas. This finding was submitted to the Settlement Working Group, the

body through which negotiations between the LGA and the Department of

Environment, Transport and the Regions are channelled. Ministers were

lobbied to take the option up.


Of the 85 options for change submitted to the Settlement Working Group,

the option raised by the partnership was one of only a handful to be

taken up. John Prescott subsequently announced an additional pounds 30m

would be made available to rural areas from April 1999.

The targeted soap operas covered key rural concerns in their story lines

and the local press was also supportive.

The three-point charter was debated and signed by more than 1,000 local



Shandwick succeeded in securing extra funding for rural areas against

the might of urban lobbyists. Though run on a relatively small budget,

the campaign won a concession on a matter of principle, providing a much

needed morale booster for the next stages of the campaign.

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