Rural regress must be halted

NOW THAT the enthusiasm and excitement generated by the Tour de France has passed, reality beckons, once again, for those rural idylls where the picture postcard imagery masks hidden pockets of social deprivation – whether it be historically low wages or the erosion of essential services and village amenities that could be taken for granted until relatively recently.

It is a policy conundrum that is only likely to become more important, and more challenging to reconcile, as a result of the demographic changes which are taking place across North Yorkshire – and also in countryside communities further afield. With younger generations seeing little future in farming or the wider rural economy, they’re opting to up sticks and pursue their careers in Britain’s cities.

They can’t be blamed for this – these decisions, by their very nature, are not easy – but the consequence is a 26 per cent reduction in pupils enrolling schools in the Upper Dales in the past five years. It has left one school at Gunnerside with just seven youngsters on its books – a potentially unsustainable number that could, in time, pose difficult questions about the school’s future if the rural exodus continues.

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Because of this growing threat to the future fabric of village life, The Yorkshire Post is backing next week’s rural summit in Leyburn and also a subsequent gathering. Innovative new ways need to be found so young families can be persuaded that their future rests in those villages and traditional market towns that served their forebears so well.

For, unless these areas receive fairer levels of funding from Whitehall and there is greater flexibility in planning rules so it is easier for new businesses and farm enterprises to be set up, the social decline of such areas will continue to gather momentum and be ignored by those national politicians who believe that rural policy begins and ends in London. It does not.

Salmond’s success: Leader who engaged with voters

EVEN THOUGH Alex Salmond will not be easily forgiven by some for threatening the break-up of the United Kingdom, it would be disingenuous not to acknowledge the contribution that has been made by Scotland’s First Minister as the longstanding leader of the SNP steps aside from front line politics in favour of his successor, Nicola Sturgeon.

Like it or not, this is an individual who has transformed the political landscape – even though his campaign for Scottish independence was, thankfully, defeated at the 11th hour. Without Mr Salmond having the courage and charisma to back his convictions, there would not now exist a profound awareness of the extent to which Yorkshire allowed itself to be marginalised by Westminster politicians – and the main party leaders would not now be trying frantically to reverse this imbalance and democratic deficit before the next election.

Yet it would be remiss not to consider why Mr Salmond’s style of leadership became so captivating and led to a record turnout in the recent referendum. Because he was such a passionate advocate of independence, and will remain so in the years ahead, he engaged with those who only had a passing interest in current affairs.

To their credit, 16-year-olds responded to being given the right to vote in the independence referendum with great maturity. This can only help to rekindle public interest in the relevance of politics to everyday lives and, in turn, lead to better leadership and governance. The hope, from a Yorkshire perspective, is that a leader of similar stature emerges to fight this county’s corner with similar effectiveness.

Unsung heroes: The priceless work of the RNLI

THE FACT that the Royal National Lifeboat Institution is credited with saving at least 140,000 lives since its inception in 1824 speaks volumes about the enduring importance of its rescue work – and why the bravery of its crews should never be taken for granted.

It is why The Yorkshire Post is proud to name the charity as the beneficiary of this year’s Christmas appeal as the RNLI looks to raise the final £40,000 that it requires to purchase the launch equipment that Scarborough’s new £2m state-of-the-art lifeboat will need when the new vessel takes to the sea in 2016.

As well as speeding up the response to emergencies, the charity continues to play a pivotal role in making sure that Yorkshire’s coastline is safe for all. If each of Scarborough’s 7.6 million visitors each year was prepared to make a contribution, however large or small, it would be a fitting show of appreciation for the unsung heroes of the RNLI who continue to risk their lives in all weathers – and at a moment’s notice.