Tuesday, 04 January 2011 07:23

2011: a challenging year for services

Written by  Ruralcity Media
2011: a challenging year for services

RURAL leaders believe 2011 could be a make or break year for countryside communities across England.

The coming year will include significant challenges for rural stakeholders as government spending cuts begin to bite.

At the same time, rural living costs are being driven higher.

Higher fuel prices - partially driven by increases in fuel duty and VAT - will have a disproportionate impact on people in sparsely populated rural areas poorly served by public transport.

Many rural households have already seen domestic fuel costs almost double in recent weeks.

Other challenges include the ongoing threat to rural post offices, village shops and other local amenities, such as rural pubs.

The Communication Workers Union has warned that a proposed Royal Mail 'sell-off' would threaten local post offices.

They claim it would rip the heart out of local communities and cause the demise of services to local businesses.

More than 160 post offices were closed during 2010, claims the union. A further 900 were put up for sale as part of a growing trend of closures, it added.

The next 12 months will also see a major power shift as the coalition government transfers many responsibilities from a regional to a local level.

Local people will be given an increasing say in the provision of public services as ministers pursue their goal of a "Big Society".

Notable changes will see the abolition of regional development agencies (RDAs), which will be replaced by Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs).

William Worsley, president of the Country Land and Business Association, said 2011 promises to be a significant year for the rural economy.

"These new bodies are intended to provide the strategic economic lead for their areas," said Mr Worsley.

"It is essential rural businesses get involved and that the new structure is capable of recognising their concerns."

The New Year will also bring major reforms to the planning system.

"It is good news the government has recognised the importance of the issue, but they need to get it right," said Mr Worsley.

"We need a system that is flexible, transparent and efficient - not a charter for the 'Nimby'."

The coming year will also see increasing pressure for better broadband provision in the countryside.

While broadband and mobile phone coverage in rural areas has got better in the last year, campaigners warn that it is still not good enough.

The government has pledged that all households will have access to broadband speeds of 2Mbps by 2015 but critics say this is still too slow.

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