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Cuts in rural communities worse and deeper than cities

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: November 25, 2013

Rural Services Network chairman Roger Begy

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Cuts to public services are felt deeper and longer by rural communities, who may continue to suffer their effects long after the economy has recovered.

The claim was made in a new report by the Rural Services Network (RSN), a coalition which includes Cornwall Council, the Isles of Scilly Council and many district authorities in Devon.

In the State of Rural Public Services report, the RSN highlights that people living in the countryside are less likely to have local access to healthcare, particularly hospitals, and more likely to have only limited access to public transport.

Author Brian Wilson said all three service areas covered – health, public transport and the Post Office – had been subject to major change and the conclusions of the report provided food for thought.

"These findings beg some serious questions for policymakers," he said.

On health facilities, Mr Wilson said the main users of the NHS were older people and the study found that only 64 per cent of villlagers live within 4km of a GP surgery, compared with 100 per cent of urban residents.

He added: "The evidence shows rural and coastal areas, whose populations contain the highest proportion of older people, receive below-average funding allocations for NHS services."

On transport, Mr Wilson said many rural bus services relied on public sector subsidy to keep going and these were under pressure at a time when local council funding was being squeezed.

Mr Wilson said: "It's important that councils and operators work together to find solutions and seek to engage the affected communities in that process."

The study also examined the effects of Post Office provision, revealing that many people living in rural communities welcome the prospect of turning 2,000 Post Office outlets into Post Office Locals.

Mr Wilson said rural communities liked the convenience of having a post office and shop under one roof, especially if it brought more trade into a village shop.

But he added: "People also raised concerns, such as the narrow range of post office services on offer and worries about customer privacy."

Roger Begy, chairman of the RSN, said he was concerned that ongoing public service cuts were felt more profoundly in rural areas, which already received less funding per head of population than urban areas.

"The economy may be showing stronger signs of recovery, but the public funding position remains as difficult as ever," he said.

"Indeed, the worst may be yet to come, as cuts bite deeper still and affect basic services."

Mr Begy pointed to last autumn's spending review, which unveiled further cuts in financial support to local government, which will come on top of the 28 per cent cut imposed by the previous review.

Rural buses relied heavily upon the subsidy available from local authorities, so were particularly vulnerable in these circumstances, he said.

Health budgets had been broadly sustained, but faced rising demand and costs. This was especially true in rural areas with their older populations, said Mr Begy.

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