Monday 24 October 2016
The Rural Services Network – which represents more than 250 local authorities and organisations in rural areas  – has urged the government to use its forthcoming Autumn Statement to address challenges faced by rural communities.
Rural Services Network has called on Chancellor Philip Hammond to include two targeted measures in the Autumn Statement, due to be published on 23 November.
Rural Services Network's first policy proposal seeks to boost economic growth and productivity in rural areas by improving broadband and mobile connectivity The second policy proposal seeks to improve care for older rural people.
In terms of the first proposal to boost economic growth, Rural Services Network is calling on the government to invest in rural infrastructure to support rural jobs.
It proposes that this measure focuses on improvements to rural broadband connectivity, rural public transport and better provision of affordable rural housing.
Rural Services Network chairman Councillor Cecilia Motley said: "The next phase of plans to roll out broadband are beginning to take shape – but will still leave some rural areas disadvantaged.
"The government might believe that this is all being taken care of – when it isn’t."
Councillor Motley added: "It is important that rural economies can be productive and can grow, both for the wellbeing of those areas themselves and as contributors to the national economy."
"However, rural areas have some relative weaknesses which require investment so that countryside communities can meet their potential."
Rural weaknesses include productivity levels that are below the national average, low wages and below average capital investment by businesses, says the Rural Services 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.
According to the 2011 census, 23% of the rural population is aged 65 or older, compared to 16% in urban areas and 17% in England as a whole.
Councillor Motley said: "Adult social services are already over-stretched as a result of reducing local authority budgets.
"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.
Councillor Motley said: "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."
Rural Services 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, the relevant authorities have been forced into planning budget reductions of £420m for adult social services in the 2014/15 financial year.
Some £600-700m 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 Rural Services Network.
More appropriate levels of formal care for older rural people would reduce pressure on and save costs in the NHS, it says.
Councillor Motley said: "Rural population profiles are such that so much money is having to go into supporting the elderly that it is having a severe impact on other opportunities for investment into rural economies."
Notes to Editors:
 The Rural Services Network is the only non-governmental organisation representing the interests of rural service providers and the communities that they serve. It involves currently some 154 Local Authorities and over 100 other service providers.
The Rural Services Network community networks exceeds 10,000 parish council contacts and over 3,000 local schools. It communicates weekly with around 50,000 through its newsletters and periodicals. For details, visit www.rsnonline.org.uk.
 A full copy of the network's representation to the government for the 2016 Autumn Statement can be downloaded at http://www.rsnonline.org.uk/images/files/AutumnStatementRepresentation2016.pdf.
 The government will publish its Autumn Statement on 23 November 2016. For details, visit https://www.gov.uk/government/topical-events/autumn-statement-2016.
Rural Services Network
T: 01588 674 922
M: 07966 790197
Sign up to our newsletter to receive all the latest news and updates.