I am proud of so many initiatives which Community Action Suffolk is feeding into, influencing, and bringing a voice to, on a local and national stage.
One area which is particularly important at the moment, is the topic of ‘rural economy’, and how we might be able to ‘rural proof’ our future in this region.
At the end of April, the House of Lords published its Rural Economy Inquiry Report, and proposed a number of recommendations. We now await the government’s response.
I thought, given the huge interest in this topic at a local level, it would be a great idea to share with you here some key questions and answers about the matter in hand, what we hope to achieve, and what it means for families and business.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS:
8 QUESTIONS ABOUT SUFFOLK, RURAL ECONOMY, AND THE NEED TO ‘RURAL PROOF IN OUR FUTURE PLANNING
1. What is the background to current UK-wide discussion around Rural Economy?
The Rural Economy Inquiry Report was published by the House of Lords at the end of April. It follows a year-long exploration of such issues as digital connectivity, agriculture, social isolation in rural communities, lack of transport – and more.
The report has resulted in a call for a Rural Strategy for England. We await government response to the recommendations.
2. What does rural mean anyway? Are we talking about people in extremely isolated communities?
No, not at all. In fact, rural basically refers to any community where the population is under 10,000.
This means that in Suffolk, it applies to all but 12 towns**.
Suffolk has double the national average of people residing in rural areas. Almost 40% of people in Suffolk live in a rural community
3. And what are the main issues or difficulties being identified for rural economies?
Transport, broadband, access to services and affordable housing are some of the key ones.
It is imperative that a strategy takes into account the needs of businesses communities and families, and the impact that can be felt where the right services are not in place or given priority.
These issues are being identified against a backdrop of more pub and post office closures, and more young people seeking both housing and employment outside of their original home towns.
This gives rise to the likelihood of increasing social isolation and difficulties in communities.
4. How is Community Action Suffolk ensuring it has a voice at a national level?
CAS is one of 38 members of the ACRE (Action for Communities in Rural England) Network.
The network has contributed to the House of Lords report findings and has welcomed the call for a Rural Strategy.
Working as part of this collective, we are able to add weight to the discussion and continually refer to our county’s experiences and ensure the needs of Suffolk are recognised.
5. Has CAS carried out its own Suffolk focused research on this topic?
We carry out a Suffolk Rural Services Survey every 4 years.
Our last survey, in 2016, revealed a number of key thoughts and fears from across the county.
In particular, only 13% said that they felt they had good or excellent broadband coverage whilst only 10% reported good or excellent mobile coverage. Some felt unreliable or unavailable mobile and broadband prevented local business start ups from establishing or growing.
The findings from Rural Services Survey was used in Suffolk Community Foundation’s local report about the ‘Hidden Needs’ in Suffolk.
6. What do you mean by hidden needs?
Hidden needs is a term which recognises appropriately that the needs of a community or individuals are so much more than ‘monetary’ ones, and can be areas of deprivation not often addressed.
A Hidden Needs report was first produced in Suffolk in 2011, challenging assumptions that the county is generally a really prosperous area and did not experience ‘deprivation’ in the way cities of the UK might.
The report was revisited in 2016 and found Hidden Needs are still a major issue for our neighbourhoods.
It means many people are still not having the appropriate access to education, to job opportunities, to transport, to socialisation.
7. Will a new Suffolk Rural Services Survey be taking place soon?
Yes. We have one scheduled for this Autumn. If you wish to know more, you can email us on [email protected].
8. What does Community Action Suffolk ultimately want to achieve on this issue?
We are keen to ensure that we can ‘rural proof’ all initiatives and provision within our county.
We want to be sure that access, sustainability, diversity and equality of opportunity is something all those living and working in Suffolk can rely on.
There is much to do but we are confident that the pressure is being applied in the right areas, and that a Rural Strategy now looks closer to becoming a reality.
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