[ Index ]
Developing rural services
Implementing local services in rural areas
2.2 Closing the gaps between supply and demand
Redressing the balance between supply and demand
in rural areas requires a new outlook on mobility,
distance services and multifunctional facilities
in order to reach a larger proportion of people,
and to reduce profitability thresholds through
a more rational use of resources. Such solutions
often involve bringing together different
between different individuals and resources,
which may go beyond the local type.
2.2.1 Closing gaps in terms of distance
Three types of approaches are currently being used to overcome
distance as an obstacle between supply and demand:
- mobile services - a mobile games’ unit in Portugal, French bus
libraries, mobile banks in Ireland are but a few examples of how
widespread the use of this solution is.
The objective of the Mertoza (LEADER Serra de Caldeirào area,
Alentejo/Algarve, Portugal) mobile games’ service is to develop
children’s creativity. For four days a week and in two villages a
day, the service provides support to school teachers in isolated
areas by enabling them to develop team work and to renew their
educational tools. In this hilly area with a poor transport network,
the games’ service also serves as a meeting and communication place
for the teachers and children who are isolated due to the scattered
nature of the local population.
Created in 1995, the mobile day nursery in Hondschoote (Nord-
Pas-de-Calais, France) is composed of an equipped caravan. The
service spends half a day per week in each of the 7 villages involved
in the project with a view to providing a nursery service for
children aged between 3 and 6 years on the weekly market day. In each
of the villages, a hall is prepared and made available to supplement
the space provided by the caravan. As an extension of the system, a
baby-sitting service has been made available for a maximum of 20
hours a week for women who are prepared to travel to where the
service is provided within the different villages. The tariffs are
calculated according to each participating family’s income level.
In order to facilitate the search for employment for unemployed
people, a travelling service has been put in place in the Toulouse
(France) area: the “Bus pour l’Economie et l’Emploi/Bus for the
Economy and Employment” goes round all the small villages situated
within a radius of about 20 kilometres from the town. The bus is open
at set hours, advertises job vacancies, provides a wide range of
information linked to the search for employment, etc. 
The introduction of these types of services requires either
partnership between several villages in the neighbouring areas with
the same type of needs or an organisation or business that is
prepared to offer part of the services in a mobile manner in order to
be more accessible to the users.
- using new communication technologies - the “teleservice” or
“distance service” concept is today applied in a growing number of
fields e.g. telemedical care, telework, distribution of
administrative forms via the Internet, telebanking, etc.
As part of its policy to regenerate the inland areas of the
island, the LEADER group in Corsica (France) has contributed to the
setting up of a “video-kiosk” in the isolated village of Levie so
that the inhabitants can accomplish certain administrative
formalities, concerning for example, marital status, family
allowance, job search, etc., which in the past required four hours of
travel to the administrative centre. This system, which combines
computer and video facilities, also provides services to businesses,
notably access to databanks and the possibility to organise
teleconferences with the consular chambers. Plans are under way to
set up video-kiosks in each of the micro-regions of Corsica.
- amalgamation of several types of services within a public (e.g.
the post office) or private (e.g. a shop) institution, i.e., the
In the Creuse (Limousin, France) area, the post office also
provides other services such as the distribution of propane gas
bottles, reservation and sale of train tickets, collation of job
vacancies and searches, etc.
In Germany, the new “Nachbarschaftsladen” (neighbourhood shops)
act as mini supermarkets, local branches for mail order, post office,
bank, dry cleaner, repair service, etc. The shops sometimes have a
small bar and a lottery kiosk .
In the Blackdown Hills (Somerset/Devon, England, United
Kingdom), the village shops have been organised into information
office networks for use by the inhabitants and tourists. The shops
provide information on local transport, leisure activities, health
centres; information on the business opportunities; key information
for visitors such as over night stay facilities, leisure activities
(e.g. walking routes and bicycle renting), local products, etc.
The “Public Points” in France operate along the same lines. In
scarcely populated rural areas, the public points group together
district, county and/or national services such as the National
Employment Agency, French Gas, French Electricity, the Family
Allowance Office, the Social Security Service for the Agricultural
Sector, local associations, etc. 62% of the services provided involve
given advice, information, guidance and distributing documentation.
28% concern file processing and 10% issuing of deeds, 50% employment,
training and vocational insertion, 25% social action, 10% paying
public services, 4% equipment and housing and 5% agriculture, small
and medium sized enterprises, economic and fiscal matters .
- a balanced geographical distribution of the range of services
supplied - an overview of the area (obtained through inter-district
or area partnership agreements) makes it possible to plan the
distribution of services in such a way as to improve response to a
scattered demand. Leisure (cultural, sporting, etc.) services, for
example, can be distributed in an area in a way that enables each
village to both run and benefit from a specific service.
2.2.2 Closing the gaps in terms of adaptability
Today, there is a noticeable willingness to adapt supply to the
demand of services, notably, with regard to:
- timetables, which are now established according to the needs of
consumers and users.
In the Arcos de Valedez (North, Portugal) area, a service
providing assistance to the elderly is now open during the night. It
is, indeed, during the night that isolated old people most feel the
need for support and safety. In this way, the old people can carry
out their usual occupations, e.g. keeping a few domestic animals,
gardening, etc. in their homes during the day and then retire to the
centre in the evening where they each have a private room for the
night. The centre provides various other services such as laundry,
preparation of meals, health services, etc.
- several services under one roof - improving the quality of
services requires diversification in and complementarity between the
different types of services, often grouped together in the same
The amalgamation of services is a formula that is becoming
increasingly popular in Swedish villages. In Trängsviken (Jämtland),
an area with 600 inhabitants, an “Association House” was created with
the aim of regenerating the area. To this end, a number of local
socio-economic players got together and undertook to convert a
building in the village centre into a multi-service hall, with a post
office, library, crèche, restaurant, show room, gymnastics room and
medical service. In all, 14 activities have been grouped together on
a modulable surface of 1 700 m2.
2.2.3 Closing the gaps in terms of quality
This objective can be attained through:
- a tailored service with human contact
In Italy, certain rural districts have set up a video system in
old people’s homes enabling them to be in direct contact with an
operator. This is a very important element in the human environment
of the people concerned, it gives them a sense of security.
In Naverbyn (Sweden), the amalgamation of services for the
elderly and children in the same multi-service centre has fostered
stronger inter-generational relations and improved the human
environment of those involved. The meals and certain leisure
activities are shared, but each old person may retire at any time to
her or his room. Also, the children have their own place for games.
Apart from improving the quality of the service, especially from the
human perspective, this grouping together of services has made a
structure in an area with a low population density viable.
- improving quality in terms of content
In Val de Bruche (Alsace, France), two women formed an
association and launched a bookshop in a rural area. In order to make
the project workable, they needed to be able to attract readers who
normally got their reading material from towns. To this end, the two
women played on the quality of the service by launching a readers’
association which organises debates on the books sold and constitutes
a real cultural forum and place for social interaction for the local
community. As the bookshop is in direct contact with the inhabitants,
it can adapt its supply to the expectations of the consumers and play
the role of cultural facilitator at the local level.
- the creation of multi-functional meeting places also responds
to a concern relating to the quality of services in rural areas.
In several rural districts in Sweden, local groups from the
rural campaign Hela Sveriga Ska Leva (All Sweden must live) have
rehabilitated existing structures by grouping several functions in
them, among them, leisure activities and group meetings, and certain
basic services such as a post office and a health centre. The
structure has been made viable by the contribution of the different
2.2.4 Closing the gaps in terms of price
With regard to the price of services, reducing the gap between supply
and demand requires, above all, a decrease in the cost of services.
Three types of solutions are possible:
- a more rational utilisation of available resources - the
resources available are often devoted to only one type of use when it
is possible for them to be put to other uses. Grouping several
services together makes it possible to reduce the overheads:
- infrastructure - in a Norfolk (England, United Kingdom)
village, a school building was designed in such a way as to be used
as a school for children during the day, as a theatre during the
evening, as a medical centre twice a week and even as a place of
worship on Sundays. The initiative’s key to success lies in the
centre’s interior architecture which is modulable thanks to a system
of detachable partitions. The multi-service complex is used by 2000
people making the school viable in this village of 900 inhabitants ;
- means of transport - using mail transporting services to
transport medicines and food, for example;
- human resources - in another Norfolk (England, United Kingdom)
village, a garage owner has taken over the activities of the post
office which had closed for reasons of unprofitability. The garage
has also been turned into a shop and thanks to the amalgamation of
the three services, none of which is individually viable (the post
office, for example, was only conducting 150-200 transactions per
week, 70-80 of which were pension payments), the business now
provides full-time employment for the garage owner and a member of
his family .
- grouping scattered demand - Thanks to transport and
communication, a service can meet a geographically scattered demand
and be profitable.
In Emilia-Romagna (Italy), several small villages are, at the
impetus of the local authorities, using the canteen services of a
public enterprise to deliver hot meals to the elderly on a daily
basis. In this way, the central unit is more profitable. The meal
deliveries and quality control exercise are also organised
- flexible management through a combination of public resources
and voluntary work - Management of services by the users themselves
is a means of obtaining considerable gains in terms of productivity
There are many examples in Europe of leisure and cultural
services where the infrastructure is provided by public authorities
and managed by the users themselves.
2.2.5 Creating synergies between suppliers with a view to balancing
the supply and demand equation
Public authorities, private companies and the not-for-profit sector
each have their own outlook and are subject to particular
constraints. Each sector also has specific capacities in terms of the
type of services, knowledge, management and cost reduction, as the
table on next page shows.
Characteristics of the different types of suppliers
involved in the organisation of local services
Type of supplier
Financing of services
Grants, Public funding
Reciprocity, social cohesion
Generalised management of budgets
Legal and legitimate recognition
Greater capacity in terms of:
Types of services
Basic social services
Supply of specialised services
Knowledge of the area
Knowledge of the market
Knowledge of the people
Management of facilities/infrastructure
Management of goods
Management of human resources
Reduction in costs
Cost of infrastructure
Labour costs (voluntary)
Traditionally, these different types of suppliers work separately,
(administrative, legal, ideological, cultural, etc.) creating
barriers which reduce partnership possibilities between them.
Partnership between suppliers can be a way of overcoming the limits
of service provision and of closing the gap between supply and
demand, in particular, in low population density areas. As the table
above suggests, partnership between the public, private and not-for-
profit sectors enables those concerned to create networks of the
different skills and knowledge (among people, markets, areas, etc.)
and to have access to several types of resources, at a reduced cost.
Working in partnership can also enable the suppliers to respond to
types of demand which, taken separately, are not solvent and whose
fulfilment implies gradual adjustments in financial terms.
In Italy, an agreement between rural districts, a supermarket chain
(“COOP”) and a voluntary association has enabled the elderly to have
food delivered to their homes at no extra cost: the supermarket
receives the orders, packs the goods and provides a vehicle, and the
delivery is carried out by the voluntary association, which receives
a financial contribution in return from the districts.
Nevertheless, partnership working between the public, private and
not-for-profit sectors is often confronted with difficulties,
particularly of a legal/regulatory nature. At the local level, for
instance a private enterprise cannot manage public funds and vice
In Italy, in order to overcome this difficulty in part, a law was
passed in 1990 (Law 142/90: legislation on local autonomy) enabling
local authorities to directly allocate funds of a private origin (for
example, from sponsors) for specific ends, without passing them
through the general district budget. This is achieved though an
autonomous semi-public body, which is created for a specific purpose
and can manage funds from different sources.
The integration of voluntary workers in the organisation of
collective services can also create legal or contractual problems:
associations are governed by particular rules and fiscal and labour
legislation which are not always adaptable, etc.
Difficulties relating to partnership can also arise between public
institutions. When the public service approach is sectoral and
specialised, the decisions are often taken centrally by the different
ministers concerned, in general according to a global plan and
financial viability defined in sectoral terms. The closing down of
schools, hospitals, railway lines and post offices are examples of
this approach. Whenever this type of action is taken, the question
that arises is: what means are to be made available at a local level
to influence or find alternatives to these decisions?
Source: Crit -Lot et Garonne
Source: LEADER Magazine n°9, summer 1995.
Source: Letter from DATAR -
French Ministry for Planning and the
Environment - October 1997
Source: Malcolm Moseley and Gavin Parker -
The joint provision of rural services -
The Rural Development Commission -
Rural Research Report n° 44 - p. 67-69
Source: Malcolm Moseley and Gavin Parker -
op. cit. pp. 75-76