'Patchy' services blight communities

Rural communities are suffering due to the patchy provision of key services, a major report has warned.

Transport, education, health and welfare services that act as a lifeline to more than 9m rural people are patchy – and many are fast diminishing, says the study.

Published on Tuesday (17 January), the State of Rural Services 2016 report highlights the contraction of rural public and private sector provision in England.

More than three fifths of pupils in England’s rural areas cannot reach a secondary school by public transport or on foot in a “reasonable” travel time, says the study.

Meanwhile, only 30% of village households are within 2.5 miles of a bank or building society.

Rural residents are also less likely to have access to medical support and face greater challenges accessing further education and welfare services.

The study was published by the Rural England Community Interest Company, which buys in administrative support from the Rural Services Network.

Margaret Clark, who chairs Rural England’s stakeholder group, described the report's findings as “worrying” across transport, education, social care and retail services.

"Access to cash is a serious issue with the increase in local rural bank branch closures," she said.

"While public health services are stretched across the whole country, rural areas are suffering due to difficulties and poor transport services.

"This report shows that there are some serious gaps in the evidence available regarding rural services, with some of it out of date and some of it found to be inadequate."

At a time when numbers of older people in rural areas are rising, the report warns of increasing pressure on already-squeezed public services such as GPs and adult social care.

It says mental health services are consistently more restricted in rural NHS Trust areas, with fewer doctors, nurses, social workers and therapists per head and fewer patient beds available.

Many rural areas lack good broadband connectivity, says the report.

This prevents residents from taking advantage of online banking or retail services, an increasing problem as more banks and shops transfer their focus from village outlets to online services.

While rural access to some frontline services may be helped by the shift online, many remain locked out of this opportunity, while innovations such as parcel shops are largely urban based.

The report also warns that there is a worrying evidence gap regarding rural services and calls for more evidence to be gathered to assess the full picture.

Although the analysis reveals a worrying picture of rural service provision, it sounds a positive note that communities are working together to fill the gap in public and private sector provision.

The report notes that community organisations and volunteers are playing a growing role in service delivery in rural areas, with a steady and sustained growth in community run shops.

The full report can be downloaded here. A summary report is available here.


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