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Rural communities face 'perfect storm'

Rural communities face a perfect storm – including unaffordable homes, poor connectivity, skills gaps and health inequalities, say council leaders.

The warning comes in an interim report by the Post-Brexit England Commission set up by the Local Government Association to examine the challenges faced by non-metropolitan England.

Communities face a 'perfect storm' that threatens the future success and prosperity of rural areas, council leaders reveal today.

The interim report was published to coincide with the LGA’s Annual Conference in Birmingham on Wednesday (4 July).

It sets out the measures needed to address a deepening divide between rural and urban areas of England.

Crucial issues faced by communities outside of England’s cities include:

– A demographic time bomb with national population projections showing that by 2039 for every 100 working-age residents there will be 53 people aged 65 or older, which will put increasing pressure on health services in rural areas.

– Residents struggling to stay in their local community due to a lack of homes at a price they can afford with the average house price in non-metropolitan England 60 per cent more expensive than in cities outside of London.

– Businesses grappling with patchy mobile and broadband connectivity that cuts off their access to new markets with a recent survey revealing almost 40% rated their internet connection speed as poor

– A growing workforce skills gap across all areas, which if not addressed could put at risk 4 per cent of future economic growth across the country - the equivalent to a loss of £90 billion economic output.

The report argues that these challenges can only be met by passing down greater powers to local areas while national government gets on with delivering a successful Brexit.

This is includes giving all councils the ability to borrow to build new affordable homes, devolving funding and control over under-performing national skills and employment schemes to local areas.

The report also calls for councils to be handed legal powers to ensure all new build homes are connected to future-proofed digital infrastructure and plugging the adult social care funding gap which will reach £3.5 billion by 2025.

Mark Hawthorne, chairman of the LGA’s People and Places Board, said: “Rural areas face a perfect storm.

It is increasingly difficult for people to buy a home in their local community, mobile and broadband connectivity can be patchy, and people living within rural and deeply rural communities face increasing isolation from health services.

“If Britain is to make the most of a successful future outside of the European Union, it’s essential that our future success is not confined to our cities.

Unless the government can give non-metropolitan England the powers and resources it needs, it will be left behind.

Councillor Hawthorne said the report outlined to government a firm offer from councils in non-metropolitan areas, to play a greater role in building thriving, connected and healthy communities.

He added: It represents a once-in-a-generation opportunity for non-metropolitan England to not only improve public services, but deliver a resurgence in rural England’s economy as well.”

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