A Minister for Youth Affairs is needed to stop young people being driven out of rural life

Jane Dodds BridgeIn our part of the world, rural Powys, driving is often the only practical way to get around, especially for young people. The proposals this week to improve young driver safety could have a severe impact on the job prospects and lifestyles of young people in rural areas like ours.

Montgomeryshire in mid-Wales is the least densely populated county in England and Wales; 59.3% of us live in isolated, rural hamlets and isolated dwellings. Getting access to health, education, housing and jobs is a challenge for anyone living in a rural community like this. Add on to that the challenge of being a young person and the barriers mount up.

Young people in Montgomeryshire tell me how important it is for them to find jobs that they can travel to. They need opportunities to meet with other young people. They long for an income that allows them to stay and invest in their communities. They want jobs and apprenticeships which are going to lead to long-term security.

These days only 9% of the population in our rural area is employed in agriculture and 33% work for the public sector. Wages remain low – £53 a week less than the average Welsh pay packet. Young people here are more likely to be in low paid work or in insecure employment than their urban counterparts. This is leading to an exodus of young people as they seek more stable and better paid work elsewhere.

Green transport to jobs, health, education and to shops is important. In Montgomeryshire, the train service runs every two hours to the major towns – the largest of which has a population of 12,000 – and bus services have been cut yet again.

Most people drive. It is the only efficient and safe way to travel, particularly for young women. This week, the Transport Research Laboratory has proposed a 12 month “learner stage”, which will require new drivers to clock up 100 hours of day time and 20 hours of night time supervised driving. They will be subject to a curfew on driving from 10pm to 5am unless accompanied by a passenger over 30.

But while this initiative is laudable in terms of trying to save lives and reduce injuries, it does not take into account the realities of living in an area like ours. Rural young people rely on a car to get to education or work. In tough times like this, many have to commute long distances to get work. Many work in service industries such as pubs restaurants or shops with late closing hours.

That’s why, along with rural Shropshire councillor Heather Kidd, I have written to transport minister Baroness Kramer and DEFRA minister Dan Rogerson. We are asking them to ensure that our rural youth are not unfairly penalised by these new measures and that solutions are found for safe, night time transport.

Jobs, education, transport, health and housing for young people in rural areas need to be considered in an integrated way. More needs to be done to plan strategically to deliver positive futures for our young people in both rural and urban areas. Young people need to know they have an option to stay in their rural communities where they can positively contribute, and be with their families.

* Jane Dodds is Leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats

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5 Comments

  • A nice bit of real world common sense. No-one in authority will take any notice.

  • Yes, we do need some common sense around this, particularly when looking at the data which shows that we need to be doing similar with drivers who are 70+ and specifically 80+ …

  • David Allen 18th Oct '13 - 5:34pm

    Is this saying that every learner requires 120 hours of supervised driving, that’s three solid weeks of work for the supervisor, nearly £1000 even if paid at close to minimum wage? Never mind mid-Wales, this doesn’t look workable in mid-Birmingham!

    PS, it’s also three solid weeks driving the car for the unfortunate youngster. Three weeks doing a risky activity, so we shall see excess deaths caused by a safety precaution….

  • Out of curiousity, how do your accident statistics for young people compare with those in other locations?

    Because that should be a critical factor in decision making, not just convenience for people .

  • Steve Comer 20th Oct '13 - 4:22pm

    It is right to campaign to: “… ensure that our rural youth are not unfairly penalised by these new measures and that solutions are found for safe, night time transport.” And it would help if more of the Transport budget could be devolved to local authorities, but I can’t see that the answer is to create yet another remote Minister based in London.

    We need to look for local solutions to problems, not for more MPs carrying red boxes and riding around in official cars!

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