Monday, 10 October 2016 09:06

Network urges government to address rural challenges

Written by  Ruralcity Media
Network urges government to address rural challenges

The Rural Services Network has urged the government to use its forthcoming Autumn Statement to address challenges faced by rural communities.

The network has called on Chancellor Philip Hammond to include two targeted measures in the Autumn Statement, due next month.

One measure seeks to boost economic growth and productivity in rural areas. The other seeks to improve care for older rural people.

The first policy proposal calls for investment in rural infrastructure in order to support rural growth and employment.

The network proposes that this measure focuses on improvements to rural broadband connectivity, rural public transport and better provision of affordable rural housing.

"It is important that rural economies can be productive and can grow, both for the wellbeing of rural areas themselves and as contributors to the national economy," says the proposal.

"However, rural areas have some relative weaknesses."

Rural weaknesses include productivity levels that are below the national average, low wages and below average capital investment by businesses, says the network.

The second policy proposal is for improvements in adult social services provision in rural areas.

The proposal calls for revenue grant funding investment to end further reductions in adult social services provision and to take account of the ageing population.

Rural areas are home to a disproportionate number of older people within their populations, which places a significant extra burden on adult social services.

"Adult social services are already over-stretched as a result of reducing local authority budgets," says the network's proposal.

"Many social services department have tightened up their criteria for helping residents and now focus only on high priority cases.

The network says one outcome is that many older people are not discharged from hospital as quickly as they otherwise could be, which is an additional cost for the NHS.

"Growing demand for adult social services risks taking the situation to breaking point.

"It is acknowledged that upper tier local authorities are being allowed to raise their portion of Council Tax income by an extra 2% to help address this concern.

"This, however, does not keep pace with rising costs faced by the sector, including those from National Minimum Wage and National Insurance increases."

The network wants funding for adult social services protected, as it is for the NHS.

Central government could achieve this with a specific extra grant to upper tier local authorities, says the proposal.

Despite attempts to protect frontline services, in the 2014/15 financial year the relevant authorities were planning budget reductions of £420m for adult social services.

A slightly larger sum would be needed to account for the growing number of older people.

Nationally, some £1bn would be needed to stop further service reductions or pressures in just one financial year, says the network.

More appropriate levels of formal care for older rural people would reduce pressure on and save costs in the NHS, it says.

These benefits would not only accrue to rural areas, but they would be particularly valuable there given their population profiles, it adds.

A full copy of the network's representation to the government for the 2016 Autumn Statement can be downloaded here.

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