Conservative District Councillors are backing a national campaign to develop a rural strategy to support the needs of rural communities.
The needs of communities in rural areas are different from those in urban areas and they need to be taken into account through policies and allocation of funding.
Yet figures show that despite 17 per cent (9.4 million) of England’s population living in rural areas, they receive less grant per head than urban areas, despite the fact that it costs more to provide the services.
The Rural Service Network is the national champion for rural services, ensuring that people in rural areas have a strong voice - fighting for a fairer deal for communities to maintain their social and economic viability for the benefit of the nation.
Councillor Owen Bierley (Conservative, Caistor & Yarborough), Deputy Leader of West Lindsey District Council, said he is backing the call for the urgent comprehensive strategy for rural areas. He said:
“West Lindsey is one of the largest districts in England and one of the most rural in the county of Lincolnshire. The needs of our communities are key in the work that we do, and we need support to enable us to offer suitable and sustainable services and practices across our district. It is time that rural districts are given proper consideration and funding to meet those needs and offer the right level of service. Allocation of funds must be done in a fairer way.”
Leading the charge for change, the Rural Services Network is asking the Government for the new strategy, which ensures existing mainstream policies work for these towns and villages, improves infrastructure and transport links, and raises the opportunities and challenges facing rural areas up the political agenda.
Rural Services Network chief executive, Graham Biggs said: “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.”
The Rural Services Network has produced a report identifying several priority areas for a new Government Rural Strategy and the issues they must address. It stresses the need for the strategy to be ambitious, comprehensive, current, resources and supported for it to be effective.
It must also take into consideration the following:
- 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 which 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-for-a-rural-strategy