THERE is a ’big conversation’ underway at the moment in Ludlow and south Shropshire.
All at least that is what Shropshire Council calls a consultation exercise about the delivery of services in the future and how the area meets the challenges.
Different parts of the country faces different ‘problems’ although I am not sure that is a word that we are allowed to use these days so let us be PC and call them challenges.
There are some huge benefits in living in an area like Ludlow and south Shropshire with its wonderful market towns, Bishop's Castle, Church Stretton, Clun, Craven Arms and Cleobury Mortimer not to mention the lovely villages and hamlets.
Some of the best and most varied countryside in the UK is close at hand and the natural world is a near neighbour.
But in other ways, things are not so good. As Shropshire Council point out, the whole of the county has about 300,000 people which is about the same as live in the city of Nottingham or less than a third of the population of Birmingham.
It is the thinly spread population that is one of the major issues when it comes to services including, in particular but not exclusively, health.
People understand that it is just not possible to have a Queen’s Medical Centre or a Queen Elizabeth Hospital in every market town. As a result people have to travel much further to access acute and specialist medical services that are in many cases best provided from larger regional centres in bigger cities.
Of course, local community hospitals can play a part but there are many things that they simply cannot, and with the best will in the world will never be able to, provide.
Recruitment of doctors and nurses is more difficult and it is inevitable that the top specialists will be located at the larger hospitals. Medical professionals cannot be forced to work in Shropshire.
Transport is another issue in which it will always be more difficult in isolated rural areas.
With the best will in the world, a bus service or train every 10 or 15 minutes is simply not possible. In most cases it is simply not possible to provide commercially viable public transport and so a subsidy is inevitable.
That subsidy is bound to be higher than in urban areas where population and usage will be higher.
Funding for public services that cost more has to come from somewhere and it is not unreasonable, up to a point at least, to expect central government to contribute more in rural areas. But how much more?
It is inevitable that some health and public services will be harder to access in isolated rural areas than urban conurbations.
But people living in rural communities like Ludlow and south Shropshire are entitled to decent health and public services and this has to mean some ‘rural proofing’ in the form of higher spending per head.