So many angles. So many pointers. Such good timing. It is difficult to know where to start. So we begin by offering thanks and congratulations to Public Health England and the Local Government Association.
‘Health and wellbeing in rural areas’ is not a report destined to sit on bookshelves, ignored or forgotten. Sometimes, in the torrent of earnest pleading by expert advocates, there’s a standout report. This is one of those times. And it deserves to be read by more than those fixated on Local Government policy or Health issues. This work deserves to be read across all sectors and by all social commentators – rural or urban, high or low-tech, those ‘doing nicely’, those ‘getting by’, those who are not and all those who take on a remit for thinking about our futures.
One reason this report will not stand still is the authors’ device of posing questions that must be asked. If you are dealing with issues where ignorance is endemic, the question prompts are an important start – particularly at a local community level. One of the main findings is that the general run of statistical ‘evidence’ is woefully lacking in granularity and that very real issues are lost in data averages that are ‘merely average’.
As I wrote in ‘Knowing Your Place’, ‘Power and competence is shifting from central top-down managements to local actors communities and individuals. Nowhere is this more apparent than in Local Government, public sector agencies and smaller communities. National aggregations of averages no longer count in this more granular world. Local communities are taking all manner of matters into their own hands – not waiting for some narrowly defined devolution. ‘Knowing your place’ is their strength – and, moreover, knowing it in ways that oft run counter to prevailing (near fossilized) ideological beliefs.’
That’s not entirely wishful thinking but, as noted elsewhere, Advocacy is an important cross-cutting theme even if it doesn’t feel altogether ‘British’ to make a fuss. And sure enough, the LGA/PHE report spots that character trait that has left many older rural dwellers without adequate leadership and support. Places that pull themselves out of the mire are very dependent on younger local volunteers or recently retired folk who are still active.
The over-simplistic notion that assumes the UK’s future economy is entirely city-based with leaders who have no remit for care of their hinterlands is not only inefficient but unsustainable. Where do these people come from?
Hidden below mainstream media radar, largely unknown to masters of their policy universe, the local projects that really do transform the economic and social wellbeing of citizens deserve far greater attention. The projects may be about Digital Inclusion, Remote Access to health consultants or New efforts to present local Open Data. They may touch on any of the cross-cutting themes referenced above – but all should be celebrated.
That is why the 2017 Digital Challenge Awards will highlight those pioneering projects that in some way reset policy agendas. Those awards will be celebrated in the heart of Westminster. Let’s resolve to not let up on the prompts suggested by the LGA/PHE report. We should pinpoint real needs and honour the Transformative Projects that respond.
The Open Call for the 2017 Digital Challenge nominations closes on April 28th.
Download the full LGA/PHE report 1.39_Health in rural areas_WEB (PDF)
Readers may also wish to track the proceedings of the Rural Summit 2017 in the Brabant Kempen Region of the Netherlands March 22nd – 23rd. (Twitter: @theruralsummit)