Rural Services Network launches Rural Manifesto

The Rural Services Network, a coalition of 260 member organisations, has published a comprehensive Manifesto for Rural England, calling on the next Government to take on a programme of action which would address the needs of rural communities across all departments and not leave it to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs alone.

The Rural Services Network (RSN) and its more than 260 member organisations believe it is vital that the needs of rural areas are addressed by an incoming Government in 2015. The Manifesto focuses on eleven policy topics which should be seen as linked with each other and which taken together can help deliver sustainable rural communities.

  • Planning: The Rural Services Network wants to see positive planning which allows rural communities to adapt and thrive. This must offer policies that reflect local circumstances and provide a workable planning system, which both engages and gains the trust of rural communities.
  • Affordable Housing: The Rural Services Network wants rural communities to remain places where people from a range of age groups and backgrounds can live. Housing (un)affordability is a key concern and there is an urgent need for more affordable homes to meet rural community needs.
  • Local Government funding: The way Government distributes grant funding to local authorities across England means rural people end up paying higher Council Tax bills than urban people, yet still have less money available to fund local services and so receive fewer of them. This is fundamentally unfair. The system should take full account of higher service delivery costs in rural areas.
  • Public transport: The Rural Services Network sees public transport as critical because its paucity is a key cause of rural disadvantage and isolation.  The subsidy that so many rural bus routes depend upon is under threat. Innovative solutions will help, but funding can’t be overlooked.
  • Access to health facilities: The Rural Services Network wants to see rural communities provided with access to high quality health care services, delivered locally wherever that is possible and effective. This should reflect the ageing demographic of rural populations.
  • Older people's services: Rural areas are home to a high and growing share of the older population. This has positive aspects, but will also put pressure on public services such as health, social care and transport. Policies must plan now for this trend and address high rural delivery costs.
  • Tackling fuel poverty: Rural areas have a high proportion of households in fuel poverty, with many off the mains gas network or living in solid wall homes. Advice to help fuel poor households must reach rural communities and policies like the Energy Company Obligation need revising to meet rural needs.
  • Viable village services: The Rural Services Network believes that local services – such as village shops, pubs and post offices – are at the heart of functioning communities, as well as offering a lifeline to many vulnerable residents. Their steady erosion needs to be addressed and reversed.
  • Broadband and mobile connectivity: The Rural Services Network wants all rural businesses and communities to share in the opportunities available with a fast broadband connection. Public sector programmes should set more ambitious targets and focus investment on places which are being left behind.
  • The rural economy: Rural economies are a significant part of the national economy and have considerable potential, if also some weaknesses. It is vital that grant programmes and business support programmes reach into and benefit rural areas if their potential is to be realised.
  • Rural proofing: The Rural Services Network wants to see all Government policy making being subject to rural proofing, so sufficient early thought is given to how those policies will benefit rural communities and so any unintended rural consequences can be identified.

To read the Manifesto in full and find out more about the Rural Services Network, visit the RSNOnline website.