Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Countryside communities 'worst hit' by strikes

Rural communities will be among those worst hit by widespread public sector strikes planned for Thursday (30 June), suggests a survey.

Industrial action threatens to further reduce already limited rural services and accelerate the pressures faced by vulnerable people living in the countryside.

The Rural Insight survey, which canvassed the views of 1300 rural residents, shows it is getting increasingly difficult to live in rural England.

Poor access to basic services were already making rural communities less sustainable, said report author Ivan Annibal of Rose Regeneration.

"I make no comment on the rights and wrongs of public sector industrial action," said Mr Annibal.

"My concern is that disruption to already distant services will have a grievous impact on rural society's most vulnerable people - children, the elderly and the unemployed."

Flagship government plans for local people to deliver local services through the Big Society must be better thought through if they are to benefit rural communities, says the study.

Although rural communities value volunteering, the survey found that many communities lack the enthusiasm needed to deliver more services successfully.

While the survey highlights many attractive attributes about life in the countryside, it also explodes the myth of a rural idyll.

"It is all too eat to pigeon hole rural communities as affluent," said Mr Annibal.

"Our report reveals that in many distinctive and difficult to overcome ways they are very vulnerable, particularly if you live in them without a good income."

Benefits of rural living include attractive surroundings, a strong sense of community, good life choices, lack of crime and a lack of pollution.

But challenges include high fuel costs, a lack of affordable rural housing, poor access to meaningful local employment and slow broadband speeds.

Taken together, these factors make it difficult for many rural residents to access services that are often a long way away.

"They prefer the idea of better transport to get people to services, rather than services provided electronically via the internet or by local community groups," said Mr Annibal.

"This represents another wake-up call for those who assume the Big Society will somehow spontaneously spring to life and come to their rescue."

But the fact that some communities valued the informal provision of rural services by volunteers suggested all was not lost, said Mr Annibal.

It was still not too late for the Big Society to make rural communities more sustainable by encouraging people to do more for themselves, he added.

Mr Annibal said: "The government must think harder about what makes rural places tick. It must also develop local know-how to make the Big Society happen."

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