Friday, July 24, 2009

Rural Britain stripped of all services

Later. Looking for Bishop's Castle dial-a-ride? Try 01588 638350.

Writing on the New Statesman website last year I declared:
Rural England has been laid waste by the rich. Just look at the names of their houses: The Old Rectory. The Old Bakehouse. The Old Red Lion.
Last week I had dinner with a company director who had just moved from The Old Stables to The Old Watermill.
Somewhere behind this fa├žade - Marie Antoinette’s play dairy brought to the market by Kirsty Allsopp - is a smokier, more productive landscape. And I am determined to see it peopled again.
Since then the process has only got worse.

At the start of the month the Shropshire Star published a sad article looking at how the villages affected are getting on a year after the closure of 13 rural post offices. The place names are an incantation to me:
Lydbury North has been replaced by an outreach service. These skeleton services are run by people like Brian Simmonds, postmaster at Pontesbury, who travels around local village halls and even people’s houses, plugging in his portable equipment.
Brian himself runs outreach services in Worthen, Wentnor, Stiperstones, Marton and Acton Burnell, where it has been a year of change for the post office and its users.
Acton Burnell, near Shrewsbury, is the unique position of being a tiny village but with almost 400 international students on the doorstep from Concord College.
Postmistress Rose Jackson says: “It’s very frustrating, I’ve had to turn business away. I cannot do packages over 6kg and students have got to get a taxi into Shrewsbury to send one. The amount of things I can’t do – foreign currency, insurance packages, I cannot sell postal orders and I cannot accept payment by cheque. I can’t even do fishing licences which we used to do a lot of.”
A year on, Rose now views the post office as “doing a service to the community” and that the scaling back of the service was “not well thought out”.
In some places the effect has been far worse:
Better than nothing’ might be the mantra of communities that at least offer some post office services, but the repercussions of closures are being severely felt 12 months on for the likes of Pam Jennings.
After 27 years, her post office in Aston on Clun was closed on August 18, 2008, a date that sticks in her head as the beginning of a slow decline in her other business – her shop.
“One without the other – a shop without a post office – is hopeless,” says Pam indicating an empty shelf that was once a busy counter.
“People would come in and spend money in the shop, or come in and spend money at the post office. I could still do trade because people come in with parcels and say ‘I thought you were still a post office’. But it’s hopeless. We used to be open 9am to 5.30pm five days a week plus Saturdays. Now I close the shop at lunchtime, but I might close altogether soon.”
Now comes news that many of the bus services in south Shropshire have disappeared. Yesterday the Star reported:
Three Shropshire bus services were ending today after last-ditch negotiations to save them failed. The routes were commercial services operated by Horrocks bus company.
The firm said at the beginning of July it could not make them viable.
The withdrawal of the 860, 773 and 745 routes means there is now no bus service from Bishop’s Castle to Wellington and no service from Bishop’s Castle and Clun to Newtown or Ludlow.
Residents appealed to Shropshire Council to subsidise the service, but discussions between Horrocks and the council failed to find a solution.
Resident Margaret Wilson described the move as “ridiculous”. She said that the services were “very popular” and regularly used with a lot of local people.
Which leaves no buses from Clun at all, apart from the weekend shuttle service for walkers.

So how are the poor, the elderly and those without cars meant to survive in rural England? Soon it will be nothing but a playground for the rich.


Tristan said...

Ironically, a lot of this is due to the 'progressive left' with its support for big industry (think Galbreith and friends) and the subsidised infrastructure necessary to make this efficient.
They, in (often unwitting) collusion with the rich stripped rural Britain of its small scale industry, and thus much of its population.

Frank Little said...

You can't accuse Galbraith of being part of the love-in between Labour and capitalist cartels. He was a liberal, not a socialist.

crewegwyn said...

I picked up the story re Clun's (now non-) bus services whilst staying in South Shropshire earlier in the week, and was puzzled by the suggestion of Shropshire "negotiating" with the operator. Surely a replacement service ought to be opened to competitive tender?

It's another sign of the madness of our transport system that leisure services remain funded, but Mrs Smith cannot reach the pharmacist and her grandson cannot visit the local library .....

dreamingspire said...

"the suggestion of Shropshire "negotiating" with the operator"
My experience is that LAs do that as the first stage: their priority is to keep a service going. In my area they tend to do a 6 month deal with the incumbent operator, which gives the LA time to go out to tender if the service meets their criteria (whatever those are - its not a transparent process).
Dial-a-Ride isn't the right answer for everybody, of course - only for those who can plan ahead. Devon's ideas are better: scrap contract school buses, and support the stage carriage service operators by giving the youngsters a carefully crafted offering using smart cards for secure recording of journeys actually taken.