Budget cuts mean a new approach is vital to maintain rural public services, the government has been warned.Significant funding reductions mean new ways are needed to maintain and enhance public services, says a Defra-commissioned report.
"This challenge is particularly acute in rural areas," warns the document.
The report, Developing Collaborative and Innovative Approaches to the Delivery of Rural Services, was written for Defra's Rural Community Policy Unit.
A full copy of the document can be downloaded here.
Characteristics associated with rurality all add to the unit cost of service delivery, the report says. These characteristics include smaller and more dispersed populations, greater distance and a limited "delivery" infrastructure. In many areas, some services will become increasingly vulnerable to further reductions in funding, the report warns. These include services with high "fixed costs" relating to staffing and premises and those relying on a minimum scale of activity to retain critical mass. Pressure facing some services – for example rural primary schools, libraries and buses – is already reaching a tipping point, the report says. A fundamental change in the way services are delivered is therefore needed to maintain access to services in some parts of rural England.
"Innovation and collaboration in local service delivery is well established in rural areas," says the document. "A review of existing practice carried out for this study shows that communities have already taken the lead in delivering rural services. "The range of public services delivered and managed by local communities is extensive and includes schools, libraries, transport and social housing."
Further engagement of communities in local service provision could help meet the challenges faced by rural public service providers, the report adds. But this will not be easy to achieve. "No two places are the same," says the document. The development of community scale solutions around service provision should be diverse and have different features depending on local conditions.