§ Alun Michael
The Countryside Agency worked with the Rural White Paper team during development of the set of headline indicators published in the Rural White Paper. Indicator 15 Community vibrancy, under the theme A Vibrant Countryside was to measure% of parishes in four categories (vibrant, active, barely active, sleeping) assessed on numbers of meeting places, voluntary and cultural activities, contested parish elections.
The purpose of the indicator is to measure on a national basis the trend over time.
The list of communities' vibrancies was made available to Members of Parliament through the House of Commons Library after the information was requested in a parliamentary question by the hon. Member for South-East Cornwall (Mr. Breed) on 28 November 2001, Official Report, column 1018W. The list had not been previously published as it represents work in progress for the headline indicator as simply a broad measure at the national level.
§ Mr. Drew
To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs which organisation devised the criteria for an indicator of community vibrancy; what consultation there was with individual communities in advance of the publication of this information; and what opportunity there is for communities to dispute their classification after publication. 
§ Alun Michael
The Countryside Agency published interim results from its own interpretation of community vibrancy based on three 'classes' in its State of the Countryside Report 2001. The indicator was based on interim findings of the 2000 Rural Services Survey and1034W the State of the Countryside report recognised some limitations with the indicator, stating that these findings largely reflect the 'critical' mass of population needed to enable the community activity opportunity to become viable or functional. The indicator does not reveal the extent to which smaller settlements and parishes are able to take up community activities in neighbouring parishes. Further, communities in all size of parish may exhibit community vibrancy in other ways than those assessed here.
Consultation was not done directly with individual communities. However the scoring system used for the sub-set of parishes analysed was contained in the State of the Countryside Report 2001. Following this publication, the Countryside Agency received no comments on the components of the scoring system. The indicator is still in development and the scoring was adapted to meet the four classes used in the RWP headline indicator.
Individual parish scores were not intended to be published, but used within an overall indicator based on returns submitted through the Rural Services Survey parish questionnaire to all rural parish clerks during autumn 2000. Some forms were interpreted differently or inadequately completed and, to date, the indicator has used these returns as the sole basis. The indicator is thus based on a standard national measure for 2000. For future work, the Countryside Agency is looking at ways of improving the collection and robustness of data to inform our indicator. This will include working with DEFRA, National Association of Local Councils and bodies such as rural community councils.
The Countryside Agency recognises some shortcomings in the data and it is not intended for any listing of parishes to be used for targeting funding or similar policy initiatives. The Countryside Agency intends to look at the whole issue again through consultation on the methodology, rather than amending individual classifications. Differing views over individual classifications are inevitable but the Countryside Agency would prefer to address these in a review of the indicator rather than on a case-by-case basis. In particular, the naming convention of the groups may be reconsidered to more accurately reflect the underlying information.
§ Mr. Drew
To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs if she will publish the survey results of the questionnaire sent out to parish and town council clerks by the Countryside Agency in advance of its classification of communities according to the indicator of community vibrancy. 
§ Alun Michael
The survey results of the questionnaire sent to parish and town council clerks has been published on the Countryside Agency's website at www.countryside.gov.uk/ruralservices/index.htm