Catalogue description Development Commission: Rural Services Surveys Datasets

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Details of D 16
Reference: D 16
Title: Development Commission: Rural Services Surveys Datasets

This series contains Rural Services Surveys datasets of surveys of services available to those living in rural England. The surveys of 1991, 1994 and 1997 were undertaken by the Rural Development Commission. The 2000 survey was conducted by the Countryside Agency which was formed following the merger of the Rural Development Commission and the Countryside Commission in 1999.

The following list summarises the topics covered in the data files for the parish survey component of the 1991-2000 datasets. In the 1991-1997 datasets this information is presented at parish level, whereas in 2000 it is presented in two forms (two tables per region): settlement level, and aggregated to parish level.

  • Shops and other services: availability of post offices, garages and petrol stations (not 2000), shops, markets, banking facilities (not 2000), food and drink outlets, and mobile shops and mobile services. The 2000 survey also asked about the sale of locally produced food by shops and delivery services.
  • Childcare, education and other care facilities (not 2000): numbers (and numbers of enrolled pupils) of child groups; numbers (and numbers of enrolled pupils) of schools and colleges, and the age groups which they served; numbers of adult education classes; and numbers of day-care groups for the elderly or disabled.
  • Medical facilities: availability of hospitals, GP surgeries, clinics, dental surgeries, opticians, pharmacies and prescription services, and residential homes and nursing homes. In the 2000 RSS, this area was limited to questions on the availability of doctors' branch surgeries, and of facilities for obtaining prescriptions away from main surgeries or chemists.
  • Places of worship: numbers of churches, chapels and other places of worship. The 2000 survey also asked for data on the total size of congregations, numbers of resident ministers, numbers of places of worship open during the day, availability of Sunday schools, and non-religious uses of places of worship.
  • Information services: availability of libraries, newsletters, notice boards, Citizens Advice Bureaux (not 2000) and Job Centre facilities (not 2000). The 2000 survey also covered public Internet facilities, community legal services and counselling services.
  • Recreational facilities: numbers of meeting places and recreation areas. The 2000 survey also asked about the frequency of sports events and community events within each settlement.
  • Clubs and societies: availability of church groups, sports groups, women's groups, youth organisations, clubs for older people, etc.
  • Transport: availability and frequency of rail services (not 2000), bus services and other transport services.
  • Crime prevention and emergency services: e.g. numbers of police stations, fire stations and ambulance stations, special constables and Neighbourhood Watch schemes. In 2000, this area was limited to questions on Community Safety Partnerships, dissemination of crime prevention advice, and crime prevention measures.
  • Public utilities: the proportion of households connected to main gas, water, sewerage and electricity, and data on public telephones and recycling facilities. In 2000, this area was limited to questions on the availability of recycling facilities provided by the parish and by voluntary groups.

Parish survey (1991-2000): The subject matter of the RSS remained broadly the same in the 1991, 1994 and 1997 sweeps, although there were changes to some of the questions and changes to the structure of the questionnaire. The main report on the 1997 survey includes a summary of the differences between the questions asked in 1997, and the questions asked in the two earlier sweeps of the RSS. The questions asked of parish clerks in 2000 were more focussed than those in previous surveys, as a result of an emphasis on gathering as much data as possible from existing data sources. Some areas which had been covered by the parish questionnaires in the previous surveys were not covered at all in 2000, including questions on banking facilities, child care groups, schools and colleges, adult education facilities, daycare groups, residential homes and sheltered housing, police and emergency services, and public utilities. Other topics which had featured in previous sweeps were dealt with in 2000 more narrowly. For example, in 1991-1997 parishes were asked to supply data on the numbers of doctors' practices, dental surgeries, clinics, etc in the parish. In 2000, by contrast, the questionnaire only asked for data on branch surgeries in each settlement, as data on the location of main surgeries, health centres, dentists and pharmacies was already available to the Countryside Agency from other sources. At the same time, however, the 2000 questionnaire also covered some subjects which had not been dealt with previously, such as the availability of outlets selling locally produced food.

Geographical availability of services (2000 survey): In the 2000 survey, data supplied from various external suppliers on the geographical availability of services was initially analysed to calculate the distance from each unit postcode to the nearest outlet for each service. This distance - expressed in size bands - was used to produce the national maps in the main report on the 2000 survey. However, data at postcode level does not form part of the 2000 dataset. Instead, the dataset contains the results of aggregating the unit postcode data to two higher levels: settlement and ward. The settlements covered by the geographical analysis are those appearing in the 1998 Rural Settlement Gazetteer - a smaller set than the population of settlements in the parish component. The wards used in the ward-level tables on geographical availability are taken from the 2000 Index of Multiple Deprivation, and cover both urban and rural wards.

The settlement files on geographical availability (referred to as 'settlement summaries') record the distance from the centre of the settlement to the nearest service outlet, expressed in eleven 2 kilometre bands (0-2 km up to 11-20+ km). In the ward level files, the same bands are used to record the number of household postal delivery points (taken as a measure of the number of households) within each band, in relation to a particular type of service outlet. Both the settlement and ward level tables on geographical availability measure proximity to the following 'service outlets': primary schools, secondary schools, Job Centres, doctors' surgeries, cash points, banks and building societies, petrol stations and supermarkets. In addition, the settlement level tables record proximity to post offices, Benefits Agency offices, and hospitals, while the ward level tables also record proximity to libraries.

The datasets in this series are available to download. Links to individual datasets can be found at piece level.

Date: 1991-2002

Operating System: Microsoft Windows NT.

Application software: The 1991 Survey was distributed to data users outside the RDC as DataEase files, which were meant to be compatible with several versions of DataEase. The 1997 dataset was distributed to external data users as CSV files. When transferred, the datasets were held in Microsoft Excel 2000. ArcView GIS software was employed for the geospatial component of the survey.

User interface: The user manual outlines the functions which were available to users of the DataEase dataset, including the ability to generate three types of standard reports. External data users were allowed to modify their copy of the database and were encouraged to add data.

Logical structure and schema: The datasets for the 1991-1997 surveys are divided into tables by county. Each table contains the parish-level data for a single county. Not all of the"counties" correspond to the area of a county council. The tables are in the form of flat files with a single record per parish. Each dataset also contains a lookup table which translates the codes used for parishes in the data tables.

The data for the 2000 survey is structured by region and according to the component of the survey to which it relates. The eight regions correspond to Government Office Regions. For each region, the dataset has four tables: a 'full settlement' table containing the results of the parish survey component, at settlement level; a 'parish aggregation' table, presenting the results of the parish survey component aggregated to parish level; a 'settlement services summary' table; and a 'ward level services' table. The last two are based on the geospatial analysis of external data sources.

How data was originally captured and validated: In the 1991-2000 surveys, data was gathered from parishes in England which had been identified as having a population of under 10,000. These parishes were defined as"rural". The selection of eligible parishes was done using data from the decennial Census. RCCs were meant to assist this process by identifying eligible parishes which had been created since 1991. By the time of the 1994 survey data from the 1991 Census was available, and was used to draw up a revised list of 9,902 parishes. This was refined in the course of the survey. In 1997, Public Attitude Surveys Limited used the 1994 list as a starting point and refined it to produce a final list of 9,677 eligible parishes.

In 2000 parishes were selected by starting with parishes identified in the Ordnance Survey Boundary Line 2000 data series; connecting these parishes to local authority areas identified in the 1991 Census; and then matching the 2000 list to the list of parishes used in 1997. A further aspect of the 2000 survey was the identification of"settlements" within parishes. Settlements in the 2000 RSS fell into two categories:

  • Urban Areas within the Ordnance Survey/Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions definition of urban areas.
  • Smaller settlements identified with the aid of the 1998 Rural Settlement Gazetteer.

In all of the 1991-2000 surveys, data was gathered from parish councils via postal questionnaires. In 1991 the questionnaire was developed by the RDC's Research Branch. The 1994 survey used a modified version of the 1991 questionnaire, developed in light of the findings of the first survey and comments during the survey. The 1997 survey questionnaire was refined using a"readers' panel" of eight rural services experts. For the 2000 RSS, the questionnaire was developed by an Advisory Panel of Countryside Agency staff.

Different methods were used in the 1991-1997 surveys and the 2000 survey for distributing the questionnaire. In the first three sweeps the finalised questionnaire and accompanying material were distributed to parish councils by RCCs and by a small number of county councils. These bodies were also responsible for collecting and checking the completed questionnaires. In 1991 forms were sent to the RDC which forwarded them to the research contractor; it is thought that a similar procedure was followed in 1994; in 1997 they were sent directly to Public Attitude Surveys Limited. In 2000, distribution was handled by MVA Group. MVA also placed the questionnaire on its website, and allowed councils to submit returns electronically.

Inputting and validation was performed by the research contractors, which also undertook the post-inputting tabulation and analysis of the data. In 1994, this not only involved analysis of the 1994 data, but also re-analysis of the 1991 data using information from the 1991 Census. In the 2000 RSS, MVA Group coded parish questionnaire data, but subsequent analysis of the data was apparently undertaken by South Eastern Regional Research Laboratory (SERRL).

The first RSS had a"census" date, in that parish clerks were asked to supply information which reflected the situation on 21 April 1991. The timing of the 1991 survey was intended to facilitate future comparisons with data from the 1991 Census of population. This approach was abandoned in 1994 and 1997. Another area where the 1991 survey differed from the 1994-1997 sweeps lay in the fact that RCCs and county councils were given the option of surveying by village rather than by parish. In the 2000 RSS, parish councils were told to return their completed questionnaires by 8 December, though in the event returns received up to 17 January 2001 were included in the database. The 2000 survey had a response rate of about 68 percent (6149 parishes), which was lower than the response rate of around 80 percent which had been achieved in the three earlier surveys (7893 parishes in 1991, 7822 in 1994 and 7789 in 1997).

The 2000 RSS included an element of geospatial analysis using GIS software which had not been present in earlier sweeps. This analysis was carried out by SERRL, and involved two components:

  • (1) The analysis of the data gathered through the postal survey questionnaire, to plot the availability of services.
  • (2) The analysis of datasets on the distribution of service outlets which were obtained from a number of external data suppliers. The datasets covered the location of schools, post offices, Benefits Agency offices, Job Centres, doctors' surgeries, cash machines, banks and building societies, hospitals, petrol stations and supermarkets. The datasets included the unit postcode of each service outlet. SERRL was able to calculate the straight line distance from each unit postcode to the nearest outlet for each service, using eleven 2 kilometre bands (0-2 km up to 11-20+ km). The postcoded data was linked to settlements in the Rural Settlement Gazetteer, by calculating the distance from each settlement's centre to the nearest unit postcode for each service outlet.

One of the reasons advanced by the Countryside Agency for its decision to supplement the parish postal survey with the analysis of external datasets was that the latter were updated at regular intervals (annually or more frequently), which would permit frequent re-analysis of the data. Thus the ward-level files on geographical availability which form part of dataset for the 2000 RSS in fact represent updates which were issued in 2001, based on 2001/2002 data from external data suppliers.

Validation performed after transfer: Details of the content and transformation validation checks performed by NDAD staff on the datasets are contained in the catalogues of individual datasets.

Separated material:

Datasets for the 1991 and 1994 Surveys have also been deposited at the UK Data Archive (, study number 3476.

See also D 10

Held by: The National Archives, Kew
Copies held at:

Datasets for the 1991 and 1994 Surveys have also been deposited at the UK Data Archive (, study number 3476.

Former reference in The National Archives: CRDA/30
Legal status: Public Record(s)
Language: English

Countryside Agency, 1999-2006

Rural Development Commission, 1988-2000

Physical description: 5 datasets and documentation
Restrictions on use: The copyright of the Survey of Rural Services (RSS) datasets and related dataset documentation belongs to the Countryside Agency; copies may be made for private study and research purposes only.
Access conditions: Open
Immediate source of acquisition:

In 2010 the United Kingdom National Digital Archive of Datasets

Custodial history: The Survey of Rural Services (RSS) datasets were originally transferred from the Countryside Agency beginning in 2000. The United Kingdom National Digital Archive of Datasets (NDAD) then held the datasets until 2010 when they were transferred to The National Archives (TNA).
Selection and destruction information: Acquisition policy criteria and
Accruals: No further accruals are expected as the survey series was discontinued after 2000.
Publication note:

Reports for the 1991, 1994 and 1997 Surveys were published by the RDC in 1992, 1995 and 1998 respectively as part of the RDC's "Rural Information Series". The 1991 report was authored by the RDC itself whereas the 1994 and 1997 reports were written by the research companies involved with the Survey. Publications relating to the Survey of Rural Services can be consulted via the Dataset Documentation.

Unpublished finding aids:

Extent of documentation: 256 documents, Dates of creation of documentation: 1991-2002

Administrative / biographical background:

The 1991, 1994 and 1997 Rural Services Surveys (RSS) were conducted by the former Rural Development Commission (RDC), in association with Rural Community Councils (RCCs) and some county councils. RCCs were local charities supported by the RDC which provided advice and help to voluntary organisations and groups. In 1999 the survey became the responsibility of the RDC's successor, the Countryside Agency. The Countryside Agency conducted the RSS in 2000, extending it to incorporate not only a survey of rural parish councils (as in previous sweeps), but also a geographical analysis of the distribution of rural services based on pre-existing datasets on the location of service outlets.

The launch of the RSS in 1991 was intended to follow up recommendations in a report by D M Clark and S Woollett, English Village Services in the Eighties, which was published by the RDC in 1990. The report concluded that a standard model survey should be established to allow data on rural communities to be gathered consistently and in a way which would contribute to a national picture of change. The first survey was preceded by extensive consultation in 1990-1991 between the RDC and a variety of outside bodies: Rural Community Councils, Action with Communities in Rural England (ACRE), the National Association of Local Councils, the Association of District Councils and the Association of County Councils. The RSS was initially known as the 'Village Services Survey'. 'Survey of Rural Services' was adopted as the title of the report on the 1991 survey, and was subsequently used in 1994 and 1997. 'Rural Services Survey' was used as the title of the 2000 Survey.

Data gathered in the various sweeps of the RSS was used to trace changes in the provision of rural services, and to inform government policy towards rural communities. The 1991 and 1994 surveys were a source of information for the White Paper Rural England (published in 1995), while the 1991-1997 surveys provided background data to the 2000 White Paper Our Countryside: The Future - A Fair Deal for Rural England. The latter placed a renewed emphasis on the RSS by setting out minimum standards and targets for the delivery of public services in rural areas, which would be measured against data gathered from future editions of the survey. Following publication of the results of the 2000 Survey, the Countryside Agency announced that it would use data from the RSS in its annual State of the Countryside report, which would report on progress towards meeting the government's targets. RSS data would also be used to produce elements of the Agency's regional and national indicators of rural disadvantage, and as one of the indicators measuring the UK's progress towards sustainable development.

Datasets from the first three surveys were distributed by the RDC to outside organisations, such as Rural Community Councils and parish councils. Downloadable data files for the 2000 survey were placed by the Countryside Agency on its website.

The 1991, 1994, 1997 and 2000 surveys all employed outside contractors, listed below, acting on behalf of the RDC or its successor, the Countryside Agency.

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