Shropshire Star

Life in rural Shropshire 'very different indeed' from rosy picture on TV, council health body warned

Councillors are pushing to have the issues faced by rural people considered at the earliest stages by all central decision-makers when they set their policies.

A meeting heard that the impression given on TV property programmes that Shropshire is a rural idyll do not reflect hidden concerns over transport

A meeting heard that the impression given on TV property programmes that Shropshire is a rural idyll do not reflect the hidden concerns over transport and access to hospitals and GP surgeries.

Councillor Heather Kidd chaired a six-month review into "rural-proofing" and presented some 14 recommendations to Monday's meeting of Shropshire Council's Health Overview and Scrutiny Committee.

Councillor Kidd said: "This report is vital for doing scrutiny in future. It's really, really important for rural Shropshire."

The idea of the Health and Care Task and Finish Group in producing its report into Rural Proofing was to address hidden problems in the countryside.

Councillor Kidd said that "for many of those living in the rural areas, rural life can be very different indeed" when compared to the impression given on TV shows like Location, Location, Location, and Escape to the Country.

While the benefits of living in the countryside include a higher life expectancy, slightly better wellbeing and more "trusted neighbours" this, she said, hides poorer transport and fuel poverty where many people are not connected to gas.

She added that the fact that more better-off property owners live in the countryside "skews the statistics" and hides problems such as fuel poverty.

"It is idyllic, it does look lovely but there are major problems," said Councillor Kidd, including access to services and getting to hospitals and GP surgeries.

"We need rural proofing at an early stage, in every development of policy," she added.

Councillor Nick Bardsley, who represents Ruyton and Baschurch, said he wanted to see development policies also considered.

He spoke of "random development in the open countryside" which might include social housing "miles away from health services and employment".

"It is adding to the problems you have looked at," he said.

Councillor Kidd said the issue was being looked into but with the local plan going through the process of adoption it was "too late" to add it in.

"It was too late for us, unfortunately," she said.

The meeting also heard that many planning policies are decided in Whitehall and left to local planners to implement.

Committee chairman Councillor Geoff Elner said "the report should go to London" to show policy-makers that life is not all about what happens in Islington.

The council is also looking into ambulance response times in a separate report and Councillor Jeff Anderson spoke of hearing "horror stories" from people he knows of long delays in response times.

Councillors at Monday's meeting of the Health Overview and Scrutiny Committee unanimously decided to support taking recommendations of The Task and Finish Group to the council's cabinet and to the full council.

Recommendations include that local health bodies should look at travel and transport which supports the Shropshire health and care system to understand how effective the current provision is and to identify current and future demand.

They also want Shropshire Council to carry out an evaluation to understand the impact of digitalisation and the work carried out by the voluntary sector.

They also want a review of communication between council officers, system partners and councillors to ensure that the best use of councillors' knowledge of their communities and where there may be previously unidentified health needs.

Another recommendation asks for a "deep dive into recruitment and retention policies and practices in the Shropshire health system, including a review of best practice nationally encompassing the approaches recommended by the Rural Services Network" to see if they would work in Shropshire.

The task and finish group of 11 councillors and a Shropshire scrutiny officers heard evidence from witnesses from across the health system, including public health officials.