Farming communities could face disproportionately severe cuts in public services after the next election, according to new research.
Rural England’s most vulnerable citizens will be at risk if Whitehall imposes across-the-board budget cuts, warns the Rural Services Network (RSN), a group of more than 250 public and private sector service providers.
With the cost of service delivery up to 90% higher – and lower average wages – than in urban areas, the RSN’s Rural Review of Public Services 2010 suggests public transport, schools, affordable housing, facilities for young people and support for the elderly could all be hit.
“Rural Communities are set to bear the brunt of the fiscal squeeze,” said councillor Roger Begy, chairman of the RSN and Leader of Rutland County Council.
“Due to the failure of Government funding formulae to recognise the costs of providing services across rural areas, many services survive on a shoestring, which means that even small cuts can seriously undermine them.
“This research shows that village schools are of high quality and achieve good average test results, but many face the threat of reviews and possible closure. Similarly, it finds evidence that public transport – which young and older people often rely on to reach key services, employment and leisure – has improved in many rural areas, but such gains are now at risk of being put into reverse.
“The research presented in this document needs to act as a stark warning to policy makers. A failure to appreciate the particular challenges faced by service providers in rural areas could be devastating, particularly where they serve the most vulnerable.
“Of course, rural communities should face their fair share of whatever the future holds – it would be unrealistic to expect anything else – but the low starting point of rural areas compared to urban must be factored in to decisions about how to share the pain.”