Rural areas are falling increasingly adrift from urban areas in terms of service provision due to ongoing cuts to local government funding, a report by Rural England has found.
The State of Rural Services 2016 report, which collated recent evidence on rural service provision, indicated that bus services and travel access to further education were particular causes for concern.
It found that local authority subsidies to bus services in non-metropolitan areas have dropped by 25% over the last four years. The most substantial reductions to bus timetables have occurred in shire authorities, it said.
The report comes as the Bus Services Bill, which promises increased franchising and decision-making powers for local authorities, moves through parliament.
Those aged over 65 – who account for 23% of the rural population, compared with 16% in urban areas – are likely to be bearing the brunt of service reductions, the report said.
Additionally, rural-dwelling learners were found to spend an average of £3 a week more than their urban counterparts on travel to further education institutions. The report said a “patchy” provision of the non-statutory concessionary rates for over-16s was partially to blame.
Commenting on the report, David Hughes, chief executive of the Association of Collages said: “We believe that existing arrangements for local authorities to provide financial support for transport to young people accessing education and training could be significantly strengthened.
“We hope that the Bus Services Bill, currently going through parliament, will move towards that.”
Writing for LGC last week, the Centre for Ageing Better’s senior programme manager for localities, Natalie Turner, said the measures set out by the bill could “make a tangible difference to millions”.
She said: “For people in later life who have to forego their cars, especially in rural areas, there is an even greater risk of social isolation and loneliness than for previous generations whose lives were, in general, lived closer to home.”