Rural Needs Act (NI) 2016 - questions and answers

Advice and guidance in relation to the Rural Needs Act (NI) 2016 in the form of questions and answers.

Which activities does the due regard duty under section 1 (1) of the Rural Needs Act (NI) 2016 apply to?

Section 1(1) of the Rural Needs Act (NI) 2016 (‘the Act’) requires public authorities to have due regard to rural needs when developing, adopting, implementing or reviewing a policy, strategy or plan and when designing or delivering a public service. If the activity which a public authority is engaged in falls within the scope of section 1(1) of the Act, then the guidance recommends that a Rural Needs Impact Assessment is carried out and a Rural Needs Impact Assessment (RNIA) Template completed. If a public authority is unclear as to whether the activity which it is engaged in falls within the scope of the Act then it should seek its own legal advice on the matter.

Does a Rural Needs Impact Assessment need to be carried out in respect of every policy, strategy, plan and public service?

Section 1(1) the Act requires public authorities to have due regard to rural needs when developing, adopting, implementing or reviewing a policy, strategy or plan and when designing or delivering a public service. If the activity which a public authority is engaged in falls within the scope of section 1(1) of the Act, then the guidance recommends that a Rural Needs Impact Assessment is carried out and an RNIA Template completed. Prudent public authorities should follow the guidance otherwise in the event of a legal challenge, they may face the prospect of having to demonstrate good reasons for not following it. The level of analysis undertaken in a Rural Needs Impact Assessment should be proportionate to both the scale of the potential impact of the policy, strategy, plan or public service and its relevance to people in rural areas. If a public authority chooses not to undertake a Rural Needs Impact Assessment, then it should have a clear rationale for not doing so and should ensure that in taking an alternative course of action, the due regard duty is fulfilled.

How detailed does a Rural Needs Impact Assessment (RNIA) Template need to be?

The RNIA Template has been designed to ensure that information relevant to each stage of the Rural Needs Impact Assessment process is captured. The documenting of this information will help to provide evidence that the due regard duty has been complied with. It should therefore contain sufficient information to demonstrate that the Rural Needs Impact Assessment process has been undertaken appropriately. Proportionality and relevance are core concepts. It follows that the more relevant the policy, strategy, plan or public service has for people in rural areas the greater the amount of detail that should be included. If a policy, strategy, plan or public service has little or no relevance for people in rural areas then less detail will be required than if a policy, strategy, plan or public service is very relevant.

If a policy, strategy, plan or public service does not have an impact on people in rural areas - can it be ‘screened out’?

The process for undertaking a Rural Needs Impact Assessment does not include an option to ‘screen out’.If a public authority concludes that a policy, strategy, plan or public service does not have an impact on people in rural areas, and that there are no rural needs to have due regard to, then this should be documented in the RNIA Template and retained as evidence that the impact on people in rural areas has been considered. If a particular policy, strategy, plan or public service is intended to be entirely urban focussed then public authorities should also consider whether there is an equivalent need among people in rural areas that should be addressed.

At what stage should the Rural Needs Impact Assessment be carried out?

The undertaking of a Rural Needs Impact Assessment should be an integral part of the development, adoption, implementation or review of a policy, strategy or plan or the design or delivery of a public service. It should therefore be part of the ongoing process. It is not appropriate to wait until the activity has been completed before undertaking the Rural Needs Impact Assessment.It is therefore good practice to begin completing the RNIA Template early in the process and add additional information throughout the process.

Who is responsible for approving or quality assuring Rural Needs Impact Assessment (RNIA) Templates?

Public authorities are responsible for ensuring that Rural Needs Impact Assessments are undertaken to a satisfactory standard and that the RNIA Templates contain sufficient information to help demonstrate how the due regard duty has been fulfilled. DAERA does not have an approval or quality assurance role. However DAERA can provide advice and guidance on the process.

Does undertaking a Rural Needs Impact Assessment mean that the due regard duty under section 1(1) of the Rural Needs Act (NI) 2016 has been fulfilled?

If the delivery of a public service is outsourced or contracted out, does a public authority still have to carry out a Rural Needs Impact Assessment?

Section 1(1) of the Act requires public authorities to have due regard to rural needs when delivering public services. The duty to have due regard cannot be devolved and therefore responsibility for ensuring that due regard is given to rural needs in relation to the delivery of the public service remains with the public authority even where it is outsourced or contracted out. The guidance recommends that a Rural Needs Impact Assessment is carried out (and an RNIA Template completed) in respect of the delivery of public services and therefore the public authority should ensure that a Rural Needs Impact Assessment is undertaken in respect of any public services outsourced or contracted out.

Who is responsible for undertaking a Rural Needs Impact Assessment in respect of cross-cutting policies or strategies involving multiple public authorities?

Each public authority listed in the schedule to the Act has a duty to have due regard to rural needs when developing, adopting, implementing or reviewing policies, strategies and plans and when designing and delivering public services.This will apply to any cross-cutting strategy, policy, plan or public service which a public authority contributes to. Where a public authority is required to have due regard to rural needs in respect of its element of a cross cutting policy or strategy, then it should undertake a Rural Needs Impact Assessment (and complete a RNIA Template) in respect of that element. Where the nature of a particular cross cutting policy or strategy is such that the completion of a single RNIA Template is appropriate, then responsibility for completing this should normally lie with the lead public authority.

Does the Rural Needs Act (NI) 2016 require the same level of service to be provided in rural areas as urban areas?

No. The Act aims to help deliver fairer and more equitable treatment for people in rural areas by requiring public authorities to have due regard to rural needs when developing, adopting, implementing or reviewing policies, strategies and plans and when designing and delivering public services. It is important to be clear what a ‘rural need’ is and to be able to distinguish between a ‘need’ and something that is desirable. In general terms, a ‘need’ can be considered to be something that is essential to achieve a standard of living for people in rural areas comparable with that of the population in general. In having due regard to rural needs a public authority should consider all relevant information and ensure that the policy, strategy, plan or public service is influenced appropriately.

Can the Rural Needs Impact Assessment (RNIA) Template be amended?

The Rural Needs Impact Assessment process has been designed to assist Public Authorities in complying with their duty under section 1(1) of the Act. The RNIA Template provided at Appendix 1 has been designed to ensure that information relevant to each stage of the Rural Needs Impact Assessment process is captured. The documenting of this information will help to provide evidence that the due regard duty has been complied with. This guidance therefore recommends that the RNIA Template provided at Appendix 1 is used. Where a Public Authority chooses to use an amended version of the RNIA Template it should ensure that it captures all relevant information.

What is the information contained in the Rural Needs Impact Assessment (RNIA) Template used for?

The RNIA Template is used to record information relating to the Rural Needs Impact Assessment. A properly completed RNIA Template should contain sufficient information to help demonstrate that the due regard duty under section1 (1) of the Act has been fulfilled. The information on the RNIA Template should be used to compile the information required under section 3(1) of the Act (see Appendix 5). This information should be included in the Public Authority’s own annual report and in the Rural Needs Annual Monitoring Return which is sent to DAERA for inclusion in its Rural Needs Annual Monitoring Report.

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