The countryside is wonderful but there are many challenges to living in it, from transport to connectivity.
Torridge District Council has joined a national call from rural services providers and community organisations across the country for the Government to produce an urgent comprehensive strategy for rural areas in preparation for Brexit, in light of a warning that people living in our towns and villages “simply cannot afford to wait any longer for politicians to take their concerns seriously and act on them”. As many rural issues have not been satisfactorily tackled pre-Brexit, I’m not sure that post will make much positive difference.
The call is the result of concern that deep-seated challenges to the sustainability of rural communities and service delivery in rural areas have been inadequately addressed by those in power for too long and the situation has become urgent. The significant outflow of people from rural areas to urban-based jobs continues to be a source of concern, like the prevailing sense that the potential of rural areas is being squandered, despite projections that unlocking their digital potential could add at least £12bn of extra productivity each year to the UK economy. Fuelling concern further is the fear that the UK’s exit from the EU will serve to compound these existing challenges, and others, not least as in many respects the current model is heavily reliant on EU policies and funding streams.
It is interesting to know what will fund highly rural areas such as Devon and Cornwall post-Brexit, as government generally seems SE/urban-centric.
Leading the charge, membership organisation Rural Services Network said after years of an inadequate rural policy framework exacerbated by public sector austerity and, the Government must produce a new strategy for rural areas which ensures existing mainstream policies work for these towns and villages, addresses brain drain, improves infrastructure and transport links, and raises the opportunities and challenges facing rural areas up the political agenda ahead of the next spending review.
Rural Services Network chief executive, Graham Biggs said
“Rural Communities are frequently overlooked in a policy environment dominated by urban thinking and policy concerns. This often means communities either miss out on the benefits or experience unintended consequences from policies which are poorly thought-through from a rural perspective. It is time for this ‘rural mainstreaming’ to stop. People living in ours towns and villages simply cannot afford to wait any longer for politicians to take their concerns seriously and act on them.”
“If rural communities are to be sustainable, the Government must seize this opportunity to work with communities to produce a long-term, funded rural strategy which recognises the contribution rural areas make and have the potential to make to the wellbeing and prosperity of the nation as a whole.”
Leader of Torridge District Council – Councillor Jane Whittaker – said:
“The call for action is a timely reminder that rural communities have been neglected and underfunded for many years. Digital infrastructure remains weak and the cost of providing services or doing business in a rural environment has not been properly or fully addressed. Our predicted departure from the EU and the potential loss of subsidies are likely to have an impact on significant sectors of our local economy, such as farming, without any reassurances that there are plans in place to mitigate this. I hope that fellow Councils will join in calling for this lack of investment and coherent strategy to be addressed and ask the government to act with a degree of urgency in this matter.”
17 per cent (9.4 million) of England’s population live in rural areas – that is more people than in Greater London receiving less grant per head than urban areas, despite the fact that it costs more to provide their services. For example, in 2018/19 urban authorities will receive 49.43 per cent (£123) per head in Settlement Funding Assessment grant more than their rural counterparts.
In acknowledgement of the numerous challenges faced by rural areas, the Rural Services Network has produced a report identifying several priority areas for a new Government Rural Strategy and the issues they must address. These include:
- EU support & funding: In 2020, sources of funding which support rural businesses and community development from EU initiatives will end. A new Rural Strategy must provide rural businesses with the support they need to create thriving local economies.
- Broadband connectivity: In England’s rural areas 15 per cent of premises are unable to access broadband connection with the speed regulator, Ofcom, considers necessary for everyday online tasks. A new Rural Strategy must ensure all rural households and businesses have the option of reliable access to broadband and mobile networks.
- Brain drain: There is a significant outflow of people from rural areas to urban-based jobs. A new Rural Strategy must ensure opportunities for quality jobs, skills and training are available so young people can remain local.
- Housing: House prices are, on average, £44,000 higher in rural areas than urban areas. But the median average earnings for rural employment are £21,400, 10 per cent less than England’s average which stands at £23,700.
- Transport: During 2016/17 alone, 202 bus services were withdrawn altogether in shire areas. People of all ages must have the means to travel to services, jobs and for social purposes.
- Health: Rural and urban areas receive similar funding (per resident) under the NHS allocations to CCGs, but this does not reflect the older rural demographic, which places extra demand on NHS services.
The full Rural Services Network report can be accessed at https://rsnonline.org.uk/time-