The Torygraph has a rather depressing article on the decline of public services in rural England and the consequent rise in deprivation.
Like the “managed decline” in the productive economy by the Tories in the 80s (and continued by successive governments), New Labour is overseeing the slow death of the community life in the countryside.
When you read the following article, bear in mind the economic logic of post office closures, etc, is actually flawed. Though some post offices may be loss-making, the loss of the post office itself is greater – impacting on local citizens (particularly the elderly) and small businesses. We can afford illegal wars and unwanted nuclear weapons – why not council housing, local schools and post offices instead?
Nearly half of all neighbourhoods have lost key amenities such as surgeries, post offices, shops and schools in the past four years, figures from Oxford University show.
The report suggests that towns and villages across England are losing basic services at “their fastest rate ever”, prompting claims that Labour is overseeing “the slow death of community life”.
The news comes after Stuart Burgess, Gordon Brown’s “rural advocate”, warned that poorer people in the countryside, who already face housing shortages and have little chance of a good education, “form a forgotten city of disadvantage”.
The report, published quietly on the Department of Communities and Local Government website last month, reveals which parts of the country have lost out because of their distance from services such as doctors’ surgeries and post offices.
It found that 45 per cent of the neighbourhoods in England – 14,493 out of 32,439 – have become more “geographically deprived” since the last such study was conducted in 2004.
This means that in the past four years, the distance residents must travel to use everyday facilities has increased, due in large part to closures.
Every neighbourhood in England was ranked by the Oxford team on a “multiple deprivation” index designed to represent social exclusion.
It showed that the village of Wrotham, Kent, had experienced the greatest deterioration, earning it top ranking in the list of the most “excluded” communities in the South East.
The index for England was topped by Bridestowe, a quiet village on the edge of Dartmoor, which suffered most from the lack of basic services measured by “road distance” to the GP, post office, shop or primary school.
Urban areas fared better, with Gospel Oak in Camden, north London, having the best access to local services of anywhere in England. However, even this accolade is under threat because two post offices face closure.
Geographical deprivation is likely to worsen because of the planned closure of thousands of post offices across Britain, which is being opposed by more 40,000 readers of The Daily Telegraph as well as by 20 ministers.
There are also threats to village shops that rely on business from the post office, while new Whitehall rules are poised to withhold funding for hundreds of primary schools if they cannot fill their places.
Village GP surgeries are also threatened from the Government’s promotion of “polyclinics” – larger centres where patients can have access to a wider range of NHS services.
Last week it emerged that four pubs were going out of business in Britain every day.
In addition, one in every 13 rural primary schools has closed since Labour came to power, with councils warning that more closures are inevitable.
The report comes after Dr Burgess, whose Commission for Rural Communities was set up by the Government three years ago to provide a voice for the countryside, made a series of recommendations.
Last year he estimated that 233,000 people lived in “financial service deserts” – areas without a post office within 1.25 miles or a bank, building society or free cashpoint within 2.5 miles.
Just 67 per cent of rural households were within 2.5 miles of an NHS dentist last year, down from 71 per cent in 2006.
The percentage of rural households within five miles of a JobCentre also fell over the same period, from 59 to 54 per cent.