Shining a light: rural sparsity in plain sight

Whilst providing accessible and good quality services to rural communities is more of a challenge than for metropolitan areas; you may look around our market towns and scenic villages and wonder why I should mention rural sparsity. Yet, in my previous column, I wrote about my commitment to ensuring ours and other communities are not disadvantaged by rural sparsity. Whilst our towns across Suffolk are visibly affluent, their needs are often obscured and, more than ever it is the case that communities are struggling to deliver some of our core services.

Take for instance our local transport services; earlier this year I chaired a meeting of the Westley estate to resolve a reduction in the local bus service at peak hours and on a key route around the town. Whilst around 70% of those living in rural areas are likely to have access to a car, for the other 30% the local bus service plays a crucial role in connecting residents to local services. For that reason, any change to local transport has a far greater impact and, as is the case in rural areas, one with fewer alternative options.

However, where technology pushes personal finances from high street to high-tech; the loss of banks, building societies and a reduction in the post office service poses a greater, more permanent challenge for households and businesses. Post Office networks offer an important means of accessing cash, and results from Rural England show half of all who regularly access their accounts at a Post Office, do so due to a lack of nearby bank branches.

In light of the challenge in delivering rural services, the role of those services and their place within the community, must be fully taken into account. It may be the case neither an appropriate site nor a postmaster is available to deliver our services. However, where these have been available, I have for instance fought hard to ensure decisions taken regarding to local post offices are done with the needs of nearby residents, at heart.

Nevertheless, as services are increasingly digitised it is essential that users have sufficient broadband and mobile coverage to be able to communicate, conduct business and access amenities. That is why my campaign to ensure broadband and mobile coverage for every part of my constituency is so vital.

However, the ‘rural case’ is drawing attention and Suffolk Flourish- a rural communities’ project setup to tackle county deprivation- recently suggested “enough is enough” for the side-lining of rural issues. This is a powerful intervention on behalf of Suffolk and it is my intention, to ensure not only do we shed light on the challenges to rural services, but, in leveraging their collective value, we drive forward the full potential to be gained from rural areas like ours.

Published in the Bury Free Press