Following recent proposals from the EC Commission and UK Ministers for a policy emphasis on integrated rural development, this article begins by noting some key elements within a model of endogenous rural development, including the role of partnerships, community involvement, animation and capacitybuilding. The paper focuses on four key questions that we argue are central to attempts to operationalise integrated rural development, drawing on recent practice in Scotland and Northern Ireland. These are: the legitimacy of rural development partnerships and local governance; the goals and processes of rural development, the time allocated for pre-development and the articulation of integrated rural development programmes with other programmes. Finally, we suggest some conclusions for future European and national rural development policy and practice.
In both the EU and UK a policy discourse has emerged which envisages a fundamental change in support policies from a sectoral approach (agriculture) to one that is more territorial (rural), and which emphasizes the development of rural areas’ capacity to support themselves through ‘capacity-building’, ‘community-based initiatives’ and ‘partnerships’. This emphasis on enabling and empowering rural people to take control of their own destinies through ‘bottom-up integrated rural development’ owes much to earlier traditions of community development, yet it is not clear that current practice is well-founded empirically or theoretically.
In this paper we focus on four key questions that we agree are central to attempts to operationalize integrated rural development (IRD): the legitimacy of rural development partnerships and local governance; the goals and processes of rural development; the time allocated for pre-development; and the articulation of IRD programmes with other programmes. Finally we suggest some conclusions for future European and national rural development policy and practice.
Issues in the Practice of Integrated Rural Development in the UK
Typically, integrated rural development suggests a territorial or area-based strategy through which sectoral policies and instruments may be integrated at the point of implementation. Development is not only a matter of economic outcomes, however, but is also a process through which people become better able to control their own destinies and cope with threats or opportunities they face. ‘Essentially it involves empowering communities. . . . Local development through empowerment must be based on processes of social “animation”, “facilitation” and “capacity building” so as to overcome the widespread sense of apathy and powerlessness which is characteristic of many disadvantaged rural areas’ (Kearney, Boyle and Walsh, 1994, p. 22). The various elements within this process (partnerships, community involvement, animation, facilitation, and strategic planning) have been elaborated elsewhere and are not unproblematic (Shortall and Shucksmith, 1998). For example, community involvement has often proved difficult to achieve, and area-based community development has often made existing powerholders more powerful and intensified the social exclusion of poorer groups.
Within the EU, LEADER is generally understood as the main rural development programme of this type, although Northern Ireland also qualifies for INTERREG funding as well as funding from the International Fund for Ireland and, more recently, the Peace and Reconciliation Programme, which has a particular rural regeneration sub-programme. As a particularly distinctive region of the UK, Northern Ireland illuminates more strongly some of the issues arising in rural development practice elsewhere in the UK. These issues will now be considered in turn.
Legitimacy of rural development partnerships and local governance
While the ethos of the partnership approach seems to rest on the concept of one inclusive partnership structure, the reality throughout the UK is that any given area may have a number of partnership structures and these may be more or less inclusive. There are many rural development partnerships in Northern Ireland: for example, LEADER II partnerships, partnerships to work on area-based strategies formed by DANI (the Department of Agriculture in Northern Ireland), and partnerships to handle peace and reconciliation funds. In Scotland, similarly, there are LEADER II partnerships on the one hand, and a system of ‘local rural partnerships’ arising from a Scottish Office initiative, on the other, and potentially covering the same areas. The composition and form of the partnership generally depends on the relevant funding organization or government body. So, for example, in Northern Ireland, the district council partnership boards which handle RURAL DEVELOPMENT IN PRACTICE 123 peace and reconciliation monies must have a particular numerical balance of district council representatives, private sector representatives, and voluntary and community sector representatives. This illustrates the first important aspect of partnerships: they are not a uniform entity, and representation of different groups is not automatic with the formation of a partnership, but is frequently inbuilt into a programme’s guidelines. Their shape is thus often determined by the body initiating a rural development programme, or administering the funding. Partnerships can be unsuccessful, tyrannical, or representative and egalitarian (Craig, 1995; Mannion, 1996). It depends on the process of formation, the time scale allowed and a great deal of work and effort (Craig, 1995, p. 13). The funding conditions which give rise to the formation of partnerships in rural areas have often meant they are assembled relatively quickly. There are difficulties with the sudden, and largely unprepared, development of partnerships. Issues of representation arise. This is of particular relevance in Northern Ireland, where the ‘cross-community’ representation of a partnership is often a key question, and one that sometimes determines funding – ‘cross-community’ being a colloquial euphemism for Catholics and Protestants.
It is obvious, then, that while partnerships can be inclusive and representative, they are not necessarily so. What then is the legitimacy of partnerships? While the model envisages rural development partnerships as inclusive of the key players, it often fails to contextualize this arrangement. Frequently partnerships exist alongside democratically elected local government structures. Indeed, a recent study of the implementation of EU rural development programmes in Britain, France and Spain concludes that, like the situation in Ireland (Curtin, Haase and Tovey, 1997), ‘the British approach to implementing EU structural support has been marked by the concerted efforts made to leave elected authorities on the sidelines’ (Smith, 1995). In France similarly, despite the recent decentralization programme, the inter-ministerial Delegation a l’Amenagement du Territoire at a l’Action Regionale (DATAR) ‘was opposed to the introduction of the LEADER programme and took strong exception to the idea that the Commission was to form partnerships directly with local areas, thus circumventing their authority’ (Curtin, Haase and Tovey, 1997).
Bryden (1994) considers the source of legitimacy of new groups and partnerships. As he points out, the state is legitimate by virtue of its democratic structure. Yet can the state transfer this legitimacy to non-state bodies who are not themselves legitimated? What ‘is “going on” when the state bypasses legitimate authorities (local elective authorities) in transferring power and responsibility to quasi-autonomous, or autonomous, bodies like Local Enterprise Companies (LECs), ad-hoc local groups, committees, etc.?’ (Bryden, p. 233). This question was also carefully deliberated in a recent rural development report in the Republic of Ireland (Commins and Keane, 1994; NESC, 1994). The establishment of partnerships inevitably raises questions about their relationship to local government, and their 124 COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT JOURNAL VOL. 36 NO. 2 2001 relative legitimacy. This has particular relevance in Northern Ireland, where close attention is paid to what provides a mandate to a group who wish to represent people. In Scotland, similar issues arise as part of the wider constitutional debate (Shortall and Shucksmith, 1998). Representation on LEADER boards in Scotland derives from LECs who have a franchise from a quango whose membership is determined by the central government minister. This is not obviously a ‘bottom-up’ process. It is not surprising that most seek to include a representative of the local authority, but nevertheless the LAGs are essentially creatures of the LECs. In other countries, LEADER partnerships have often been much more closely linked to structures of local government [e.g. in Spain (Smith, 1995)], or gained legitimacy from community participation (e.g. Ray, 1996). The influence of placing Scottish LEADER LAGs within the LEC structure extends beyond representation, moreover, into their goals and activities, as discussed further below.
Beyond this, the power and effectiveness of new structures are weakened if there is not a clear channel linking them to government structures. It is crucial in the interests of effectiveness, and ultimately accountability, that within an institutional framework, roles are clear, and power is formal and legitimized. How new arrangements relate to existing government structures and procedures must be clear. This was illustrated in a recent review of part of the institutional apparatus established in Northern Ireland (LRDP Review, 1995). The Rural Development Council (RDC) was set up with a brief of influencing and advising government on rural development policy. The evaluation, however, concludes that the RDC was restricted in its ability to fulfil this role because it was ill defined and meant different things to different organizations, and the mechanisms for communicating policy advice to government were weak (p. 3). Furthermore, the study concludes that the RDC lacked formal powers to exercise a function in developing policies or strategies for disadvantaged rural areas. The institutional apparatus created in Northern Ireland to deal with rural development is impressive. What this review illustrates, however, is how the lack of clarity about formal powers, and links with existing structures restricts effectiveness. It also leads to questions about the national commitment to rural development partnerships. If normal structures of governance continue to exist without engaging with the newly emerging partnerships, or without clearly established channels of communication, then partnerships occupy a very tenuous position.