Exclusive: Rural life at ‘tipping point’ as cuts slash services

Lord Matthew Taylor - Chairman of the Rural Coalition
Lord Matthew Taylor - Chairman of the Rural Coalition
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RURAL services in many parts of the country are at “tipping point” and only a “fundamental change” in the way they are delivered will save them, a new report warns.

Primary schools, libraries, health centres and bus routes will all face closure unless rural communities are empowered to work together with service providers and the Government to run them.

The study, by consultancy firm Rural Innovation, concludes that there is “no longer scope to continually pare down key public services” in the face of spending cuts and that the Big Society must be given an opportunity to take control.

But it warns that a shift in attitudes could take some time, with providers reluctant to risk handing over the running of vital services to volunteers. It also says a “one size fits all” approach is impossible given the diversity of rural communities.

It comes as the Yorkshire Post calls for the higher cost of delivering health and policing services in rural areas like North Yorkshire to be taken into account when public funds are distributed as part of our Give Us a Fair Deal campaign.

Rob Hindle, the author of the report, said rural services had been “doing more with less” for years but severe spending cuts have pushed many to the brink of extinction.

“The inescapable fact is that it is harder to deliver to dispersed populations and when you are pushing to meet delivery targets, the edges suffer quickest,” he said.

“We have seen this in the pattern of small school closures and redistributed bus services. Rural services have slowly been eroded away.

“But there are a wide variety of examples of rural communities looking after their services and this has been going on over the last two or three decades. There are the skills and there is the will to work with the state to deliver these rural services.

“We see the manifestation of the Big Society in rural areas where people respond to issues. When communities feel vulnerable, people should be prepared to step up.”

Rural groups welcomed the report, but warned urgent investment is needed to support communities who may want to take charge of their services.

• More details and background story in Saturday’s Yorkshire Post