Have your say on our Rural Policy paper

It is my firm belief that local people know the area they live in best, village to village, town to town.

I have been asked to have a think about what policy changes should be made so that people in rural areas get a fairer deal and the resultant rural policy paper will be presented at Autumn Conference. Clearly, we must be realistic – none of us expects to have major services (such as hospitals) on our doorstep. However, it seems to me that there are some areas of Government policy which could reflect rural needs more effectively.

I chose to bring up my family in a rural area and so understand and appreciate the unique challenges that people living in the countryside face as a result of geography, sparsity and demography. Far too often, Government policy has been ‘urban centric’ in its focus and this must change. Rural residents on average pay 21% more in Council Tax, yet we receive far fewer services than our larger towns and cities. I was astounded to learn that, on average, urban councils receive 50% more funding per head of population than rural councils – £487 per head compared with £324.

I have included the following headings which I expect to form the ‘backbone’ of the paper;

  • Rural services
  • Rural businesses
  • Agriculture
  • Land use
  • The rural environment

We would however welcome any additional ideas for topics that you believe should be included, so please do get involved. Send any ideas you may have to tom[dot]ryder[at]parliament[dot]uk with “rural policy paper” in the subject line or, alternatively, leave a comment below.

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16 Comments

  • Malcolm Todd 31st Jan '12 - 5:42pm

    Hm. You chose to bring up your family in a rural area, and you think it’s unfair that you have to pay more for services that will evidently cost more to deliver than in a compact urban area? I’m not impressed.

  • john Stevens 31st Jan '12 - 5:47pm

    About time the party took the countryside seriously and TM is the right person to do it. I would add to the list the importance of web-marketed entrepreneurial small businesses which lower labour and site costs make easier to start in the country than in towns and opposing Conservative nibyism towards the chronic need for rural housing. Incidentally chicken breeding is currently our topvalue single service export to China. (I hope that isn’t moderated)

  • Andrew Suffield 31st Jan '12 - 5:47pm

    It’s reasonable that things cost more, but I think her point was that they pay more council tax, yet have a smaller amount of that tax revenue spent on them. Which is clearly backwards – people in rural areas are subsidising the cities!

  • By definition, “rural” equates to transport poor. There is a constant need to finance rural bus services through subsidy, with many of these being charity/volunteer organisations who have the willingness to plug the transport gaps but face a mountain of legislation to do it. One example is the limitation on the size of bus that volunteers can drive on a standard licence. There is a petition here (http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/21662) which explains in more detail.

    Its a quick win if the legislation can be eased as it will increase rural transport capacity for very little extra cost.

    Angus Gill (East Sussex)

  • Richard Church 31st Jan '12 - 8:08pm

    Of course urban councils receive more funding per head than rural councils. They have more deprivation. There is rural poverty,but not on the same scale as urban poverty, and people on low incomes need more local services. The notion that rural people are, as a whole, hard done by is nonsense.

    For many, including Teresa Munt, a rural lifestyle is a choice. In reviewing policy, let’s concentrate on those whose lifestyle, urban or rural, is not a choice.

  • Rita Giannini 1st Feb '12 - 8:33am

    The idea that in rural areas there is less deprivation than in urban areas leaves me perplexed; it might be different, but it is still there. What is the point of having enough cash in your pocket to catch a bus if the bus is not there? Primary schools get children who have never had the company of other children because they have grown up in a remote farm, and their parents did not have the time and/or the money to take them to a nursery or playgroup. What about a nursery attached to every primary school, with the children entitled to use the school buses? Many teenagers cannot join in activities after school because they have no means to get home afterwards and spend their weekends in isolation.
    Let’s talk about these issues, but please forget the image of bonny children in their wellies running in fields with lambs!

  • Hi Tessa,

    I would add housing to the list of headings. I would also draw a tight distinction between those brought up in a rural environment and those not. If we want to retain a sense of community in our rural areas then it must be easier for the former to continue living there with a good quality of life.

  • As someone who grew up in the far end of cornwall
    Transport is a big issue and although things have improved the subsidy to bus companies to run uneconomical
    services are being cut with the possiblity the bus service will dissapear.
    One other point is air ambulances. they are kept up by charity if you live in some ares that service could mean the difference between life and death. That needs to be put on a more sure footing.
    Internet access and mobile phone services are often inadequate and needto be upgraded to ensure that people
    in rural areas have equal chances of being able to use the latest technology.
    Also I support the comment about young people not being able to get to venues and after school clubs because of difficulties of getting home afterwards

  • Bus services are vital.

    Recent cuts to bus services have isolated Shepton Mallet from Bristol. I used to be able to board a bus to Wells and get a transfer ticket to Shepton, but the buses from Wells to Shepton have been cut back such that I can’t commute home if I finish at 5.

    There’s a half hearted direct service between Shepton and Bristol, one bus each way a day. It leaves Shepton at half six to arrive in Bristol at half eight, and leaves Bristol at half four to get into Shepton at half six. I caught it once and found I was the only person using it for half the journey. Which considering the service isn’t surprising really.

    We’re only 21 miles from Bristol, yet a two hour journey is positively medieval, you’d have thought in 2012 we could average more than ten miles an hour. For the sake of the environment, economy, and society we need to sort out public transport in rural areas, where the rule of thumb is that everyone with a job drives to work and anyone without a car can’t find work.

  • Julie Pörksen 1st Feb '12 - 9:20pm

    Great news that you are working on this Tessa.
    One point for now, please can the future of rural communities be addressed. The physical ‘focus’ of many rural communities has disappeared due to the closure of the school/shop/post-office/pub and I am sure this trend won’t be reversing in the current economic climate.

  • We need the rural bus service to be maintained for the use of older members that do not drive This is vital and Post Offices should be kept open if not expanded to help with useful services
    Peter Harris

  • What is meant by ‘rural’ is very interesting, it is clear that many think of either the Yorkshire dales or those small groups of exclusive houses you typically see just outside towns and cities in the south east.

    The village I live in, has a significant number (about 30% of all homes) of social houses. We have problems filling these, as obviously if you qualify for social housing, you are unlikely to have the money to spend on transport needed to get to the nearest town etc. hence I think ‘Social Inclusion’ which would also touch on community and amenities, justifies a heading of its own.

    I would like to see the next level down of headings to better understand the extent of your current thinking and fill in gaps.

  • Although certain services cost more to deliver, overall Council costs in rural areas are lower because rural communities do more for themselves.

    District council tax payers in rural parts of a District have to help finance urban services and facilities, the equivalent of which in their own villages are provided by volunteers or out of the local Parish council tax. Clearly a case of rural areas subsidising urban ones.

    I remember a full council meeting with about 50 councillors and 5 senior officers spending 10 minutes on some problem with an urban bus shelter. No doubt a paid officer had to go and inspect it before dispatching a workman to repair it: all at the considerable expense of tax payers throughout the District, including those in rural parishes.
    A similar problem with a village bus shelter would be dealt with by a Parish council chairman asking a local tradesman to fix it and present an invoice to the Clerk. The chairman’s time is given free and the small cost the tradesman would be paid for from the Parish council tax, with no contribution from the council tax payers outside the village.

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