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The Rural Services Network Annual National Rural Conference, comprising over 120 representatives of rural local authorities and other rural service providers and countryside groups voted unanimously at its meeting today to strengthen calls for a rural strategy.
Encouraged by Key Note Speaker and Chair of the Lords Select Committee on the Rural Economy Lord Don Foster – who suggested that the government had a blind spot as far as rural areas were concerned, conference delegates came out 100% in favour of asking Government to think again about its reticence over taking action on behalf of rural communities.
At the heart of the discussions was a shared conviction that “No-one should be disadvantaged by where they live.”
Rural disadvantage comes in many forms and delegates heard:
Northern Ireland has a bigger adjustment in cash terms to cover the additional rural costs of providing health services than England as whole.
A typical rural affordable housing scheme in Cornwall had some 27 applicants for every available unit.
Public transport is on its knees with services virtually nonexistent in many deep rural areas.
Protected landscapes are increasingly becoming places to visit with little thought in public policy about the challenges of living and working in them.
An uneven pattern of economic development has left broad swathes of rural England with no prospect of providing work or house ownership options for the young.
Loneliness and its corrosive effects in terms of health and well-being is one increasing symptom of this cocktail of factors mitigating against the sustainability of many rural communities.
Delegates also heard about positive options going forward based on a 10-year vision for the future arising from the thinking of key speakers such as Professor Janet Dwyer from University of Gloucestershire and Dr Gary Bosworth from the University of Lincoln. The increasing use of digital and wider technological solutions underpins much of the positive future for rural communities – ranging from health to public transport.
It is clear however that the antidote to many of the issues discussed will only work if individual policy strands are joined up around a cohesive pattern of coordinated actions. The glue that offers to bind this together is a rural strategy.
Responding to the Conference Chair of the Rural Services Network, Councillor Cecilia Motley said:
“The breadth and depth of the commitment from organisations from across all spectrums of the rural agenda for a rural strategy is massively borne out by the discussions and actions today. We have a wide body of grass roots support and in Parliament and other places. I hope on the strength of this that we will be able to convince Government to revisit its thinking and agree with us about the crucial importance of a national rural strategy.”
The Rural Services Network represents over 150 rural local authorities and a similar number of other services providers in the public and private sector delivering services to rural communities. The RSN Conference was held over two days from 3-4 September 2019 at the University of Gloucestershire. Details of the discussions can be accessed through firstname.lastname@example.org or by dialing 01822 851370
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