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SERVICES IMPROVING - AND ALSO IN DECLINE

 
09:00 - 08 May 2003
 
 The Countryside Agency's annual report yesterday painted a mixed
picture of rural services - with some showing signs of improvement, but
others still locked in decline. The "State of the Countryside" report,
which pulls together a wide range of data on life in the countryside,
concluded that access to rural services was broadly static.

Rural access to services such as primary schools, GP surgeries and
JobCentres has been largely unchanged during the last two years, while
access to cashpoints in country areas has actually increased.

But the study also found that some services were continuing to decline -
most notably post offices and pubs.

In the year 2000, 98 per cent of rural households lived within two
kilometres of a post office, but that proportion fell to 91 per cent
last year. Sub-postmasters have warned that closures may well continue
because of poor financial prospects.

Countryside Agency chairman Sir Ewen Cameron said it was "too early" to
tell whether Government efforts to stem the tide of rural closures would
work.

Sir Ewen also voiced concerns about the continuing "drip-drip" closure
of country pubs. But the agency's chief executive Richard Wakeford said
it was not yet possible to tell whether the commitments made in the
Government's Rural White Paper three years ago would be met.

However, the report also noted that the population of the countryside
was continuing to grow - putting increased strain on the services that
remain.

In the last 20 years, the number of people living in the countryside has
jumped by 1.5 million - a rate of increase six times that seen in the
towns.