Worcestershire County Council has joined a national call for the Government to produce an urgent comprehensive strategy for rural areas in preparation for Brexit.
It comes following a warning that people living in towns and villages 'simply cannot afford to wait any longer for politicians to take their concerns seriously and act on them'.
The national 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 Central Government and the situation has become urgent.
Significant numbers of people from rural areas are moving to urban-based areas and this continues to be a source of concern. Also a concern is the prevailing sense that the potential of rural areas is being squandered, despite projections that unlocking their digital potential could add at least £12billion 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.
Membership organisation Rural Services Network is leading the national call and is urging the Government to produce a new strategy for rural areas which ensures existing mainstream policies work for these towns and villages.
Councillor Ken Pollock, Cabinet Member with Responsibility for Economy and Infrastructure, said: "In Worcestershire, 26% of our population live in rural areas so that is why we need a comprehensive strategy as soon as possible.
"The importance of providing services that rural residents and business need is central to the objectives of this Council's Corporate Plan, Shaping Worcestershire's Future, including services that support some of the most vulnerable people in our county requiring adult and children's social care."
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 connections 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 found on the Rural Services Network website.
RSN is the national champion for rural services, ensuring that people in rural areas have a strong voice. We are fighting for a fair deal for rural communities to maintain their social and economic viability for the benefit of the nation as a whole.