Sustained development in rural areas were the main item on the agenda.
The President opened the meeting by announcing that he has signed an executive order on rehabilitation of the Armenian, Bulgarian, Crimean Tatar and German peoples and state support measures for their revival and development.
Opening remarks at joint meeting of State Council and Council for Implementation of Priority National Projects and Demographic Policy
President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon, friends,
Before we start work, I want to introduce our new colleagues. They are Plenipotentiary Presidential Envoy to the Crimean Federal District Oleg Belaventsev, Acting Head of the Republic of Crimea Sergei Aksyonov, and Acting Governor of Sevastopol Sergei Menyailo.
We hope the new regions will take an active part in resolving the tasks before Russia, including implementing the measures that we decide upon today.
Let me take this opportunity to inform you that I have signed an executive order on rehabilitation of Crimea’s Crimean Tatar population, as well as the Armenians, Germans, Greeks, and everyone who suffered during Stalin’s repressions. This same executive order also sets out measures for the socioeconomic organisation of regions that were practically abandoned over these last years, if not decades, had no real legal status or recognition and rather than seeing any social development were only in a state of degradation. We will discuss this in more detail later.
Colleagues, we are set to discuss sustained development of Russia’s rural areas at today’s joint meeting of the State Council and the Council for the Implementation of Priority National Projects and Demographic Policy.
I know that there was much discussion during the preparations for today’s meetings, with talk of the need for a comprehensive approach to rural development rather than concentrating only on the production sector. We will take a closer look at this today.
The rural areas have tremendous economic, demographic, natural and historical-cultural potential. Our task is to put this to effective use for the country’s benefit, in order to give millions of our people a new quality of life.
As you know, we launched the agriculture sector national project 8 years ago. The project went on to serve as the base for a targeted state programme. These measures, based on a systemic and programme-focused approach, enabled us to achieve some change in a number of areas, develop agriculture, put in place the conditions for introducing modern technology and attracting investment, increase housing construction, and support enthusiastic and dedicated professionals and agribusiness directors.
People have stopped saying that investing in agriculture and rural areas is a waste of time. It seems to me that the ‘black hole’ they used to talk of is a description that has thankfully become a thing of the past now. We have shown through our actions that competently organised investment can indeed lead to active work and produce the desired results.
But you all know well that there are still a huge number of problems in the rural areas. What’s more, life seems to have frozen altogether and come to a stop in a good many places. This is true not just of villages that have been left deserted, but of places with quite sizeable populations too. The rural areas still lag a long away behind the cities. There are differences between the rural areas themselves too. In one and the same region you can find examples of promising, developing businesses in the countryside and others in a state of degradation.
The rural areas are home to around 37 million people today. In 2000, if you recall, the figure was 40 million. People continue to leave the countryside. Villages with ten or fewer residents now make up 24 percent of the total.
The cities have always been a magnet of course, and we see pretty much the same process happening everywhere else around the world too. But the countryside today is often pushing people into leaving because of no employment prospects, no housing, poor everyday living conditions, and a general sense of having no purpose and place to put oneself to use. It’s telling that the average wage in the countryside is slightly more than 14,000 rubles. People working at big and medium enterprises make a little more – 17,500 rubles. But this is only 52 percent of the average wage in the economy as a whole, which last year came to nearly 30,000 rubles – 29,900 rubles.
I believe that the regions, local government, and rural residents themselves should all take an active part in the efforts to transform life in the rural areas, and the federal authorities must put in place the financial and organisational mechanisms for reaching these objectives.
The State Council’s working group proposes drafting a long-term strategy for developing rural areas. What the working group’s members have in mind is the comprehensive development approach that I mentioned, including social development. I think that we really do need a conceptual document of this kind so that the authorities at all levels, public organisations, political parties and business all have a clear idea of the tasks we need to resolve together and act as a united front, so to speak.
Preparing this strategy will require us to analyse all the legislation concerning rural development and take into account that financial support for agriculture needs to be concentrated on main areas that will have multiplying effect. This includes regional development programmes, improving infrastructure and the insurance system, education, scientific research, and human resource training.
At the same time, we must not forget that the rural areas are not just about producing food for the country. They also represent traditional customs and way of life. They are part of our cultural wealth and the unique heritage of our vast country’s multi-ethnic people.
These and other important subjects were discussed recently at the congress of rural deputies in Volgograd. That event brought together people who know rural problems from the inside, know them better than anyone else. The congress’ recommendations must also be taken into account in drafting the strategy and getting it into its final shape.
Colleagues, we have a good number of important issues to examine today. Let me speak briefly about a few of them.
First is housing provision. The housing stock in the rural areas has increased by 20 percent since 2000. That would seem to be not too bad a result, but this increase has been above all due to individual house-building, which has increased by 36.2 percent. The thing is though, that a large share of these houses are actually country houses built by city dwellers. People living permanently in the rural areas account for only a minimal share of this construction.
More than 490,000 rural families are currently on the waiting lists for improved housing. How are we going to tackle this task? To what extent does the Housing for Russian Families programme take into account rural people’s interests? The Government will soon complete the drafting work on this programme. These are all issues that we will need to discuss today.
The second big issue is infrastructure. This means above all roads of course. We all know that lack of good roads is the main scourge of our countryside. This lack of normal roads deprives people of chances for improving their lives, erodes state support efforts in the countryside, and puts a brake on initiatives in every sector, whether education, healthcare or leisure. Plenty of decisions have been taken on roads in the rural areas, including using part of the money from the road funds for this purpose. I want to hear today about how the money is being used, how the work is going, how effectively the decisions taken are being implemented, and the overall prospects for resolving this issue of such crucial importance for rural development.
The next issue is the effectiveness of local self-governments in the rural areas. I know that this is hard work, not an easy job at all. This is especially true of the village administrations, where you usually have just a few people doing all the work, taking on the role of legal experts, economists and accountants all at once. For all the difficulties though, we see that some villages are doing well, while others are struggling to survive. In some villages the roads are cleared of snow in time so that ambulances or fire engines can get through, while in others the roads get buried under snow the whole winter long.
Clearly, this is not just an issue of money, which we know there is never enough of. I do note though, that the districts should exercise in full their right to transfer to the villages part of the revenue from federal, regional and local taxes and fees. In practice this is done extremely rarely, unfortunately. It is understandable: they haven’t enough money to meet their own needs, but abandoning the villages to their fate is not the solution either.
Economy-minded local and regional authorities should make it a matter of honour to ensure good order in the regions under their control. Much here depends on the heads of the local government bodies, on their being genuinely engaged in their work and on their ability to organise local people and get them involved in resolving pressing problems and support people with initiative.
Local government heads and their teams should always be available, always in touch with the people. Arrogance, snobbishness and big-boss caprices have never done anyone any good. This is all the more so in the rural areas, where everyone knows each other and people always value openness, concern, and working for the common good.
There are quite a few examples now of modern villages being built a long way from district centres, with developed production, engineering and social infrastructure. There are more and more such examples in the country today. Of course we must review and spread this experience. But one thing is clear even without studying the most advanced methods and experience, and that is that development is most successful in places where people care about their home and have active support from their local authorities.
Another important issue that is directly linked to the previous issue is business development in the rural areas. I could spend a long time listing all the measures already taken to support small and medium businesses, and I won’t do so now. The bigger problem is how well informed are people interested in getting into business about these measures? How accessible is the information, how successful have we been at getting it across?
This is a problem not just here in Russia but all around the world, but the fact remains that for an ordinary person to understand what’s written in some of our laws and bylaws, you’d need to translate it from legal language into everyday Russian. And you would need top-class professionals to do the translation, otherwise there’s no making sense of anything.
I think the local government bodies should have a person whose job it would be to explain things for and assist beginning businesspeople. Of course, many municipalities do formally have such people, but small business is not developing in the countryside, sadly. Not enough information is getting through to people. It is time for the regions to take this process under their control and organise effective work to support people who want to go into business.
I am sure that you receive a lot of letters, as I do, from people complaining about how impossible it is to get the needed information in good time. If this situation continues it will be very difficult indeed to develop the rural areas, and so I am drawing your attention to this bureaucratic problem, which is something that most certainly can be resolved.
Let me note too that we are not making use of the rural areas’ tourism and recreation potential. The Government must draft detailed conditions and mechanisms for bringing investment into this sector. I ask you to pay attention too, to systemic development of cooperatives and also to draft proposals for developing banking products designed for supporting SMEs in rural areas, including in the services sector, businesses such as hairdressers, cafes and small hotels. All of this is needed not just by rural residents but also for developing domestic tourism in Russia in general. At the moment though, it is impossible to get the needed loans for such projects. I think that we should make every effort to change the situation in this area so that lending goes not only to production but also to social projects, which can be very profitable, and I draw the attention of our colleagues from the Central Bank and Finance Ministry to this issue, since they work directly with the banks. It is also important to organise specialised consulting services for businesspeople.
Let me say a few words too about attracting young people to work in the rural areas. This is an area where we need to build a comprehensive support system that includes money to help make the move and get started, decent wages, housing provision and additional social services. I know that this kind of work is being carried out in many regions, and we need to look here to the examples of best practice. This approach proved its worth in full during the national projects’ implementation. It provided a good start and we should certainly support it further. I know that some areas and regions are organising this kind of work on their own initiative. This is the kind of experience we should replicate elsewhere, all the more so as it brings positive results and is bringing young people into the areas where such programmes are in place.
I ask the Government to review and summarise all of this experience and make it available to the regional heads in cases where this has not been done yet. I hope that most of our regions will find this experience useful. Overall, life in the cities is not always easy either, and if you offer young graduates attractive conditions in the countryside, they will make a conscious choice to go there.
Colleagues, these are issues that we have discussed before at previous meetings, councils and so on. Many measures have been taken and there are positive results that have been the subject of much discussion too. Today, I ask you to focus on the priority areas and problems that we must resolve in order to achieve sustained development in the rural areas.
No matter how much we talk about rural development it will never be enough. This is an issue we will keep coming back to, and we will be monitoring the situation constantly.