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Challenges for rural areas

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key word: methodology and development, SME's, computers and telecommunications
source: LEADER Magazine n12
date of publication: 10/96

"Taking full advantage of new technologies"

David Haworth (LEADER Argyll & the Islands, United Kingdom)

The LEADER group Argyll & the Islands in Scotland intervenes in an area covering 7 740 km2 where 75 000 inhabitants live. Comprised of long peninsulas and several archipelagos (26 inhabited islands), it is a vast and very diversified area. The coast is longer than in France! Communications and transport are hindered by the geographical location and the hilliness of the area.

As a result the LAG's strategy has particularly consisted in implementing actions aimed at reducing the difference in development levels between the mainland and the disadvantaged islands by taking full advantage of new technologies. The aim has been to provide services on the islands that have hitherto been absent but which meet a demand and to adapt them to the local context.

Consultations on the islands of Tiree (700 inhabitants) and Coll (180 inhabitants) revealed that individuals, businesses and associations were in need of computer equipment to perform secretarial, administrative and managerial tasks. It takes 4 to 5 hours to reach the two islands by ferry, so efficient means of communication are important.

On both islands LEADER helped set up a "business centre" equipped with computers, a fax machine and a photocopier. Each centre is managed by an association, but the challenge facing them is to generate enough income to be financially self-sufficient. The centre on Tiree rents office space to the local authorities at market prices and serves as a resource centre for visiting officials and business people. The local newspaper is published there, and a graphic agency was created there for SMEs. The centre will soon be housing the island's tourist bureau. A room is also frequently used for conferences and training courses. The centre on Coll is smaller. It is also used for outside people on assignments on the island and has signed contracts with local organisations. Teleworking can be done at the centre, and services located on the mainland can be accessed: social services, banking, list of libraries, etc.

The island of Jura (200 inhabitants) has a fuel supply problem, because the private operator does not have the necessary financial resources to comply with new legislation on fuel storage and delivery. His equipment is obsolete and needs to be replaced. With the help of the LEADER group, a "steering committee" elected from the local community is examining the possibilities offered by new equipment which would replace the old method of supply. A feasibility study is under way on the installation of a pump connected to a three-compartment tank. The quantities sold are relatively small, so to be profitable the pump would need to be un-manned and operated with a credit card, a system common today in multi pump urban stations but unknown in a remote island situation.

For the LEADER group it is a pilot project whose lessons could be shared with other islands and rural areas that are increasingly experiencing this kind of problem.

Because new technologies evolve at an extremely rapid pace, it is difficult for companies in rural areas to stay up to date with innovations: attending a conference or exhibition in a large city is costly and not always relevant for small rural businesses.

After consulting the population of Argyll, the LEADER group decided to organise a conference exhibition from 4 to 11 November 1996. SMEs and organisations are the target audience. Teleworking, the Internet and communication technologies for businesses were on the agenda. The event is part of Euro Teleworking Week, with video link up and other events taking place that day in Europe. The operation will be evaluated, and the results will be disseminated throughout the LEADER European network.

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