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
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
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.