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Developing rural services

Part 2
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. [5]

    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 “multi-service” notion.

    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 [6].

    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 [7].

  • 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 place.

    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 users.


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 [8];

    • 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 [9].

  • 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 collectively;

  • 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 and efficiency.

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 Public sector Private sector Not-for-profit sector
Financing of services Grants, Public funding Private capital Contributions
Approach Redistribution, equity Market forces Reciprocity, social cohesion
Constraints Administrative rigidity
Generalised management of budgets
Financial profitability Legal and legitimate recognition
Greater capacity in terms of:
  • Types of services
  • Basic social services Supply of specialised services Personalised assistance
  • Knowledge
  • Knowledge of the area Knowledge of the market Knowledge of the people
  • Management
  • Management of facilities/infrastructure Management of goods Management of human resources
  • Reduction in costs
  • Cost of infrastructure Management costs 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 versa.

    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?


    [5] Source: Crit -Lot et Garonne

    [6] Source: LEADER Magazine n°9, summer 1995.

    [7] Source: Letter from DATAR -
    French Ministry for Planning and the
    Environment - October 1997

    [8] Source: Malcolm Moseley and Gavin Parker -
    The joint provision of rural services -
    The Rural Development Commission -
    Rural Research Report n° 44 - p. 67-69

    [9] Source: Malcolm Moseley and Gavin Parker -
    op. cit. pp. 75-76

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