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Developing rural services

Part 1
Local services in rural areas

 



1.3 Local services as a leverage for rural development

 

In the current context, the adaptation and upkeep of
local services is not only a new challenge for rural
communities, but also a genuine lever for rural
development, notably with regard to the creation of
jobs and new activities, mobilisation and social
cohesion, new ways of utilising resources and
linkages with other areas. Together, these
form a local development project.

 

1.3.1 Job creation


New types of demand for services are currently emerging in rural areas. They are the result of:

  • a willingness to extend access to personal assistance services to the entire population, even in isolated areas;

  • an aspiration for a better quality of life that takes account of needs, other than the basic ones. This implies extending access to cover cultural and leisure services, etc.

The demand offers employment opportunities in different domains including:

  • administrative and intermediary tasks between structures and citizens;
  • flexible management of mobile and distance services;
  • creation of cultural and leisure services, etc.

There are two approaches to job creation in the services sector, i.e.:

  • an approach that is specifically centred on the fight against unemployment (a short-term perspective). The sector providing services to the population is indeed often perceived as a source of employment opportunities capable of absorbing unemployed people with low qualifications or young people just entering the labour market.

  • an approach aimed, above all, at making up for a certain deficit in service provision and carried out on a long-term basis.

A combination of these two approaches is necessary in ensuring a certain efficiency in terms of job creation and a certain quality in the services supplied. It is important to avoid creating underpaid work.

This combination can be conducted through:

  • more flexible modes of partnership between the public, private and not-for-profit sectors;

  • greater legitimacy for the not-for-profit sector to manage public funds;

  • support through further education.

 

1.3.2 Creation of new activities


Many examples show that setting up a service can be a lever for launching other activities (e.g. creating a service centre in a rural area can produce a snowball effect and attract other activities); that synergies are possible between transport or information services and other services and that launching a new service can raise the profitability of another.

In Lozčre (Languedoc-Roussillon, France), the village of Massegros (321 inhabitants in a district of 833) no longer had any shops, which forced the inhabitants to do their shopping in a market town situated 15 km away. Fearing loss of part of the population, the municipal authorities transformed some office space belonging to them into a grocer’s shop. The shop is a branch of the supermarket situated in the market town and, therefore, has the same prices. Nevertheless, the absence of a petrol outlet in the district forced the inhabitants to continue travelling to the market town, using the occasion to do their shopping, thus threatening the grocery’s existence. As a result, the municipal authorities decided to open a petrol filling station in the village, assuming the responsibility to cover eventual running deficits. The station is able to cover its running costs and the grocer’s shop is now profitable [4].

 

Local service provision:
two approaches in terms of job creation
Approach Programme for combating unemployment Project for the creation of services
Objective Creating means of integration into the labour market Creating services through new arrangements combining paid and voluntary work, responses to social needs and the market economy
Legal arrangements regarding employment Dispensatory measures for work of short duration, with reduced employers' charges Jobs governed by common law
Legislation on voluntary work
Types of activities concerned Socially useful activities in non-competitive domains, implemented by the public or not-for-profit sector on the initiative of public authorities Collective interest activities, implemented in autonomous non profit entities
Financing Public financing Combination of financial resources

Source: Jean-Louis Laville, “Les services de proximité en Europe”, Syros Alternatives, p.114.

 

1.3.3 Mobilisation of the population and social cohesion


Saving a service that is in danger of disappearing or creating a new service to respond to a local need can be the driving force for the collective awareness of the inhabitants. It is a way of reinforcing their common identity references and a certain social cohesion. The safeguarding or creation of a service can lead to a consumer behaviour that not only responds to economic choices but also to feelings of belonging to a local community.

In the Stirling (Scotland, United Kingdom) LEADER area, the inhabitants of a village decided to take over the only shop in the village, which was on the verge of being closed down. They bought shares in the shop (15 EUR each) and turned it into a co-operative.

Keen to ensure the co-operative’s viability, the members undertook to mostly shop at the co-operative, thus making the business profitable. The shop also provides a post office service and has progressively become a meeting point and enhanced social interaction. For instance, the window display is dressed in turns by the different local associations, village school children, etc.

 

1.3.4 New ways of exploiting resources


Local service provision uses resources until then non-exploited or under-exploited, e.g. the infrastructure, labour, skills, etc.

Several districts in Emilia-Romagna (Italy), starting with Parma in 1991, have set up “time and solidarity banks”. The members of the banks give their time free of charge to supply services in exchange for other services. Time is, therefore, the currency. Through these banks, certain needs can be met free of charge via the creation of a network of individual skills based on reciprocity and equality. The creation of time banks is underpinned by a feeling of belonging to the same community, and by the existence of current unresolved problems.

Two types of time banks have been developed i.e.:

  • “geographical” time banks bringing together the inhabitants of a small area where multiple services are exchanged;

  • “thematic” time banks which are organised around a group, a place or a specific concern such as the exchange of school services between the parents of school children, etc.

 

1.3.5 Linkages with other areas

Making a service viable in rural areas sometimes involves organising it in a network to bring about an improvement in the quality and a reduction in the cost of certain services. In this way, the area concerned benefits from linkages with other areas which, in turn open new development perspectives. Networking can group the needs together, i.e. by making demand viable particularly in low population density areas and by modernising the supply, i.e. by increasing access to appropriate technological solutions.

In the Stad-Och Land (Sweden) LEADER area, the prospect of a village school closing down galvanised the inhabitants into creating in 1996 a network of the local schools. The network has facilitated the sharing of distance learning services and improved the quality of education for schools with only a small number of pupils. At the moment, co-operative links are being established with areas in Scotland confronted with similar difficulties.

 

1.3.6 Integrating services in an area development project


The provision of local services in rural areas stands to gain from integration in a comprehensive area development strategy, which at the same time plays the role of lever. Integration opens other horizons in terms of identity and common objectives, notably with regard to quality. It also facilitates the co-ordination of services, provides relevant complementarities and guarantees a better geographic distribution of services. Furthermore, improved co- ordination also leads to a more sensible use of resources, in some cases reducing start up and/or viability thresholds. Finally, an overall strategy facilitates the identification of certain key services for the area’s development.

a) Consolidating and enhancing cultural identity

The structural constraints of rural areas make it difficult to guarantee the same levels of diversity and quality of services achieved in towns. The development of new technologies contributes towards reducing the gap between towns and the countryside, but could never completely remove it.

However, rural areas have assets that are linked to their specific area and identity. The values inherent in rural areas, such as calm and space, could also be promoted. Moreover, customised services, quality in the human relations and greater participation of users in the services can often to be found in the countryside.

This much wider notion of a service’s quality, based on the specific characteristics and identity of a rural area, opens innovative perspectives in terms of development. In this way, the sector providing services to rural communities is no longer considered as being in difficulty and inefficient, with defects that need correcting, but as a vehicle for the expression and assertion of the identity of an area. It is a development lever bringing together people around a certain image and quality of life and a renewed and modern local identity. In this way, the quality of life has become a widely used concept in promoting the image of rural areas.

The district of Aichach-Friedberg (Bavaria, Germany) is an area with no particular characteristics, situated between the neighbouring towns of Munich and Augsbourg. The local players have been brought together in a partnership with LEADER and are creating a new local identity on the basis of the historical origins of the Wittelsbach dynasty of Bavarian kings, whose birthplace is Aichach-Friedberg. Aichach-Friedberg’s slogan is now: “Land of the Wittelbachs: a good, modern place to live in and love”.

b) Co-ordinating services, seeking complementarities and ensuring a certain balance

Integrating service delivery in area strategies also facilitates the co-ordination of services and the search for complementarities between them, leading to an improved service for the community.

Complementarities at a rural area level can be established in terms of transport services by integrating the latter in the wider service and sold as such to the customers.

In certain rural areas in the Netherlands, there is a transport system combining train and collective taxi services, which transports passengers between their departure/destination point and the railway station. The users of this form of transport buy special tickets that cover the whole service. Complementarities of this kind can also be established between services of a different nature.

In Bregenzerwald (Austria), on the initiative of the LEADER group, local business players e.g. farmers, hoteliers, restaurant owners and transport companies have agreed to combine their services and sell them as a package to tourists. The service is sold in the form of a card at a set price and gives tourists access to a wide range of existing services in the area during their stay there.

Even more than complementarity between services, a comprehensive area-based approach brings about a certain balance in the geographical distribution of services. The approach can be discussed in a concerted manner with the different key players concerned and thus become a factor of mobilisation and development. This is notably the case with services relating to young people such as music schools, cultural and sports centres which can be distributed, on mutual agreement, in the different villages, thus providing each one of them with a nerve centre.

c) Ensuring a more sensible use of resources

An area-based approach also makes it possible to take stock of available resources and to seek more judicious ways of using them. This may concern existing infrastructures e.g. schools, post offices, local authority headquarters, etc. or under-utilised human resources e.g. the unemployed, young people, professional people living in the area but working elsewhere, etc. A more beneficial way of utilising available resources helps lower the financial thresholds for starting up activities and sometimes helps increase the viability of essential services that did not exist before or that were on the verge of disappearing.

On the small island of Holmon (Sweden), an old people’s home is being run with a staff of just 7 employees thanks to local solidarity that has made it possible to reduce service costs: a doctor who hails from the island provides a free of charge service when he returns for the weekend, the manager of the home is replaced by local volunteers in case of illness, etc. The introduction of this service was made possible thanks to a concerted approach at the local level, making it possible to identify and mobilise certain resources that were until then not being utilised, especially the doctor skills.

d) Identifying and implementing key services for the development of an area

Certain services are particularly important for the development dynamic of an area. Such is the case with information services (local media), which can play a fundamental role, not only in terms of local information but also in the mobilisation of people and the creation of common references, such as collective awareness and promoting aspects of the area’s identity, common reflection, exchange of information and points of view, etc.

 


[4] Source: CRIT Lot et Garonne (France)


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