Headlines: August 1st, 2006



Imaginative and innovative ways to improve public services in country areas are highlighted in a new Rural Services Review from Defra. It details how local authorities, businesses and communities are working in partnership in a range of areas, including housing and services for older and younger people.

In its Rural White Paper in 2000, the Government set out a number of national standards emphasising that people could make a difference and stated that policies would be based on engaging local people. Defra says that following a review last year it was clear that the Rural Services Standard was not delivering on all its objectives and the new style Rural Services Review, first published in 2004, now incorporates the standards and shows how they are being taken forward in local areas.

Minister for Rural Affairs Barry Gardiner said the publication was intended for everyone in rural areas, especially those working to improve services in their communities. People, he said, had come up with a number of creative ways to overcome barriers and deliver services.

“By showcasing these success stories, we want to give everyone a better idea of how to engage with their service providers and achieve benefits for the community as a whole,” he said, adding that the Review not only descibed the standards but showed what they meant for people living in the countryside.

Projects highlighted in the Review include day care in Northumberland, while in Belford, villagers campaigned for the retention of as many local health and welfare services as possible after the closure of a council-owned home. The community-run Bell View Project now provides a range of services from cardiac rehabilitation, to social activities. In Derbyshire co-operation saved the village nursery in Shirebrook and led to the opening of a new one in the neighbouring village of Cresswell. At Honingham in Norfolk, Broadland Council and the Peddars Way Housing Association in partnership with The Housing Corporation built affordable and environmentally friendly homes that allow local people to stay in the village in spite of rising house prices.

The Review sets out eleven core standards covering extended services and activities in schools, targets for Sure Start Children’s Centres, a presumption against the closure of rural schools, improving the quality of life and independence of vulnerable older people, broadband connectivity for schools and Internet access for those who want it, a formal requirement on the Post Office to maintain the rural network of post offices, hospital and primary care appointments and ambulance response times.