Rural resilience in communities
Poverty and a lack of services are more keenly felt in remote locations
Village of Killearn - credit Byron V2
Providing business with the infrastructure and support to succeed is all very well, but without resilient and sustainable communities the rural economy will always face challenges.
Being further removed from services and decision making can disempower and disconnect people living in more remote locales, meaning small local businesses can become lynchpins of communities.
The loss of health and education services and shortages of doctors and teachers are keenly felt in such places, while poverty can be even more isolating than for those in an urban context.
Rural communities tend to have older populations, and therefore social isolation, distances to services such as hospitals and the availability of public transport are issues, while those living in deprivation are spread out.
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Over half of rural homes in Scotland, for example, live in fuel poverty, meaning over 10 per cent of their income goes on keeping themselves warm.
A report by the independent Scottish Rural Fuel Poverty Task Force in October found many rural homes are spending double that, as they are hit with higher costs of rural living and many living in areas not serviced by gas.
“Clear targets and milestones” would be needed to tackle the issue, the report said.
Fuel poverty also has obvious implications to health at a time when a record number of GP practices are being run directly by health boards amid a spiralling crisis in recruitment and retention of family doctors.
Although rising numbers of GP vacancies are also being experienced in urban areas as fewer junior doctors specialise in general practice and many GPs are seeking early retirement due to pension caps, the crisis is keenly felt in rural areas where a GP may be the only local health service provider for many miles.
And in teaching, issues with recruitment and retention are also heightened in remote communities.
The seven northern local authorities in Scotland have begged the Scottish Government to take rural circumstances into account when workforce planning.
In February, Aberdeen, Aberdeenshire, Highland, Moray, Orkney, Shetland and the Western Isles all said local people needed routes into the profession.
Scotland’s rural parliament, launched in 2014 to give voice to the concerns of rural communities in Scotland, is now known as Scottish Rural Action in an attempt to directly influence policymakers on rural issues.
According to the organisation’s 2017-19 action plan, infrastructure, governance and the land agenda will be key to building resilient communities.
Scottish Rural Action’s chair, Amanda Burgauer, said: “We are consistently being told that policy does not translate to a rural context, and our rural communities feel disempowered and disconnected from decision-making processes and the opportunities to change that.
“Our rural communities are being asked to deliver more, and given greater powers to do so. Some of our communities have risen to this challenge and are at the helm of transformation for their community.
“Other communities are getting further and further left behind and facing serious challenges including poverty, depopulation and declining services.”
A lack of clarity over what will happen as the UK leaves the European Union means these factors could get worse before they get better.
And it is not just direct support for farmers and fisheries policies that will be impacted. Land management budgets and support for rural services and infrastructure have relied on support from Europe.
Ahead of the election the Countryside Alliance produced a manifesto which highlighted the challenges presented by Brexit.
“Those who live and work there can be forgiven for feeling that the countryside is often treated as a theme park, not receiving the political support and action it needs and deserves,” the group’s charter said.
“Rural life holds specific challenges and we urge the next government to recognise this and prioritise accordingly.”
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