The Scottish Government recently published a Draft Strategy for Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture Research that will run from 2022-2027. This is an ambitious multidisciplinary programme with a budget of around £48 million a year. Its programme is divided into five main themes:

  • Plant and animal health
  • Sustainable food system and supply
  • Human impacts on the environment
  • Natural resources
  • Rural futures

Plunkett Foundation is glad to see that rural issues are given special attention in this strategy, and that community ownership is given a mention in “Rural futures”.

However, we feel that the strategy could be improved in several ways, namely:

Community ownership is only mentioned in “Rural futures”, but could be an effective model in the other four themes, e.g. Plunkett’s 2020 Better Business report on Community Shops has highlighted how community shops can start to re-localise the food supply chain, which ensures food security and in turn reduces food miles, thus having a positive impact on the environment.

Community ownership is only mentioned in terms of land ownership/management – which already makes up a large proportion of community businesses in Scotland. The programme must take the opportunity to explore alternative, less prevalent applications of the community ownership model in the form of businesses, such as pubs, shops, green energy etc.

The stated priority for researching community ownership is to “assess the effectiveness of the model”. The model’s social and economic effectiveness has already been established by numerous organisations, including Plunkett. The goal of the research should be to explore ways of expanding the applications of the model in Scotland to tackle environmental, social and economic issues in a joined-up way; the barriers to the model (e.g. lack of awareness, access to finance); and ways that the model can be better supported (e.g. through legislation) to widen its already proven impact.

It’s unclear how communities fit within the research methodology. Practical involvement of communities and community businesses should be encouraged – not a ‘top-down’ approach. Rural communities are consistently ‘reported on’ rather than having a voice in the research. Communities should have the opportunity to shape research – and not just through surveys.

The Wellbeing Economy, as recommended by the Advisory Group on Economic Recovery, needs to have greater presence in this strategy. Community business could be a driver for this vision for economic recovery. Community business and the Wellbeing Economy are a way of ‘joining the dots’ between the five thematic areas of research and finding a joined-up solution to the issues raised.

The programme will undertake research on minority groups in rural communities, although this should also underpin research in other themes (e.g. food security, access to green space). Again, communities should be actively involved and not simply ‘reported on’.

Social care and health is not mentioned in “Rural Futures” despite being a burning issue.