Sunday, 09 July 2017 09:00

Stop sidelining rural issues, ministers told

Written by  Ruralcity Media
Stop sidelining rural issues, ministers told

Urgent action is needed to tackle the impact of austerity on local services, a coalition of 12 national organisations has warned.

Unless the government acts, rural areas risk becoming enclaves of the affluent, said the Rural Coalition.

The coalition – which includes the Rural Services Network – is urging ministers to 'up their rural proofing game' on Brexit and other key public policy areas.

It says the government must deliver a fairer deal for the over nine million people in danger of being 'left behind' in rural areas.

The coalition issued the warning in the form of a statement identifying the key principles, policies and actions which it says the government must apply to secure a 'living, working countryside'.

Coalition chairman Margaret Clark said: "The government must recognise that rural England is not just about farming and the environment."

Real challenges

Ministers should address the very real challenges facing those who live and work in our smaller towns and villages, she added.

"For too long, rural people and businesses have been left behind and sidelined in the national political debate.

"It is time for government departments to up their rural proofing game to achieve a Brexit deal and domestic policy agenda that works for rural communities."

That call was echoed by Rural Services Network chief executive Graham Biggs.

Mr Biggs said: “Rural communities contribute a great deal to the national economy but are facing threats to their future.

Underfunding

“This is due to chronic underfunding, demographic challenges, diminishing resources – and the needs of rural areas being systematically overlooked.

“Without action, conditions in rural areas will deteriorate further.

“It is in the national interest that we all work together to revitalise this fundamental national asset."

Other coalition members include Action with Communities in Rural England, the National Housing Federation and the National Association of Local Councils.

The statement calls for a planning system and funding regime that delivers a meaningful increase in the number of affordable homes outside of towns and cities.

It also calls for fair distribution of funding between urban and rural areas for all services including healthcare and transport, and an industrial strategy that realises the potential of rural areas.

Sidelined

The coalition says the general election campaign saw rural issues virtually sidelined by both major parties.

And it is calling on ministers to recognise that rural businesses are diverse and rural communities share the same varied needs as those in cities.

Some 17% of England's population live in rural areas, supporting some 520,000 businesses, employing nearly 3.7m people and generating £404bn every year for the national economy.

But the coalition warns that many rural dwellers feel 'left behind' or ignored, with key services cut back because of public sector austerity and private sector cost-cutting.

Rural local authorities also receive much less funding (per resident) than other local authorities, and residents face starker challenges in accessing services including physical and mental healthcare and education.

Members of the coalition also want to see business support and infrastructure reach rural areas, so the rural economy can grow.

Ambitious

They say the government should introduce an ambitious annual target for the number of new affordable homes built in rural areas and a dedicated rural affordable housing funding programme.

They recommend a support programme for rural businesses and community entrepreneurs.

And they call for government funding formulas to recognise the extra costs of delivering services in rural areas.

The coalition says a comprehensive community infrastructure support programme should recognises the pressures on volunteers and spread good rural practice.

The full coalition statement can be seen here.

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