How to damage rural communities in several easy stages…

Yesterday, I waxed unlyrical about the effects of government on rural life, and today, I want to look at some of those effects…

The Department for Education, under Michael Gove, has changed the funding arrangements for schools, with unfortunate side effects for rural schools. This means that schools such as the one I visited recently in Norfolk will lose grant funding, and be forced to lay off staff as a result. Given that rural counties already receive less grant per pupil than metropolitan ones do, the impact on the fabric of schools and the ability to employ teaching assistants is heightened, and calls on the goodwill of those staff that remain is tested. At the same time, there is a move away from ‘contextual value added’ to a more basic ‘value added’, which takes out any consideration of local factors, such as high levels of adult illiteracy, or lower levels of parental support and aspiration. It could also be reasonably argued that those who have remained in villages in the modern era, as opposed to those that have moved to them, are less ambitious and less motivated to encourage ambition in their children, increasing the need for intervention, support and encouragement at school.

In addition, village schools are under pressure to amalgamate, abandoning some villages for new or extended sites elsewhere, leaving those villages relatively bereft of life during the day, leaving only the elderly, the unemployed and the very young.

The Treasury, by imposing the beer duty escalator, has caused the closure of pubs up and down the land. But whereas in a town, there is another pub not too far away, and it’s probably accessible by public transport, that isn’t so in the country. In a town, the pub is not such a key focal point, whereas in a village, it is the place where people gather to socialise. To survive, village pubs have increasingly turned to food, often of high quality, attracting business from relatively well-heeled people, but are often accused of losing their soul in the process.

The Department of Business, Innovation and Skills, prior to this Government, brought about the closure of post offices. The argument was that you could move them into other locations, supermarkets and the like. Unfortunately, in many villages, that had already happened, with village shops providing a wide range of local services, cross-subsidised by the income from paying out benefits and pensions. With the movement towards direct payments into bank accounts, many stopped being sufficiently profitable to allow for a reasonable living to be made or became unattractive to anyone thinking of taking them on.

So, different Government Departments, launching separate, uncoordinated attacks on the foundations of village communities, none of them intentional, each of them damaging. Combined, they represent a major threat to the communities that form the backdrop to your drive, or train journey, between towns and cities. All of this demonstrates that governance is not a joined-up affair, with the actions of one part of the administration working contrary to the efforts of another. And yet, it could be better.

Tomorrow, I’ll offer a possible solution. And yes, it involves some government…

* Mark Valladares is a parish councillor in God’s own county. And it’s south of the Trent…

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