The purpose of the All Party Assembly Group on Rural Sustainability is to build up a set of core understandings to underpin the development of a strong, inclusive and effective Rural White Paper. The group meets on a quarterly basis focusing on some of the priority issues rural MLAs are facing and building up cross party support for the Rural White Paper and its effective delivery. The Chair of the group alternates between Jim Shannon (DUP), Declan O’Loan (SDLP), Barry McElduff (SF) and George Savage (UUP) as the four officers, with Rural Community Network acting as the Secretariat.
A recent meeting of the All Party Assembly Group on Rural Sustainability was held on 20 October 2009 in Stormont chaired by Jim Shannon MLA. The theme of the meeting was ‘Changes in Ambulance Services – Implications for Rural’ with Brian McNeill, Operations Manager for the NI Ambulance Service as the key note speaker. Brian McNeill highlighted the changes in how ambulance services are to be delivered following efficiency savings, the links with the wider health service changes and the consequences for rural people and communities.
Keith Morrison from DARD Rural Policy Team was also present providing a quick update on the Rural White Paper and reflecting on Brian's presentation from the perspective of 'what difference might a Rural White Paper have made to the decisions taken by the NIAS, if any?' There was a good discussion among the 10 MLAs and various political party officers present with the challenges of delivering and monitoring quality services in rural areas at a time of public sector cutbacks as the main focus of the conversation.