Agricultural Policy Co-ordination and Rural Development Research Programme Research Findings No. 5The Quality of Services in Rural Scotland
Steven Hope, Simon Anderson and Becki Sawyer Social Research Unit, System Three
This study aimed to measure the views and experience of rural residents in relation to a wide range of services, both public and private, and to identify strengths and weaknesses in current service provision. A survey of 2000 households in a sample of 50 rural locations was undertaken, along with focus group discussion in three case study areas: Scourie, Errol and Millport.
- People living in rural Scotland generally expressed high levels of satisfaction with services. One third of services covered by the survey achieved satisfaction rates of 90% or more including post offices; electricity and water supplies; ambulance and fire services; and libraries. A further one third of services, including GPs, primary schools, police and trades services had satisfaction rates of between 80 and 89%.
- Respondents were realistic about the kinds of services they could expect to be provided locally. A small number of 'core' services such as a shop, primary school, GP and community hall were seen as vital to maintain a vibrant community.
- For other services, respondents were prepared to travel to access services located elsewhere. Car-sharing arrangements to access services were common both amongst those with no car and those without daytime access to a car.
- There was, however, dissatisfaction with certain aspects of service provision. Seven services had satisfaction rates of less than 60%: activities for teenagers and for young children; out-of-school care; clothes shops; sports and 'other leisure' facilities; and road repairs.
There has been a major restructuring of service provision in recent years, especially through the increase in the size of service units such as shops and banks and the development of out-of-town shopping. This, along with increased car ownership, improvements in roads and access to services by mail and telephone, has led to increasing problems in delivering services in rural areas: concern has arisen over the declining levels of provision in rural areas.
Population growth in many rural areas does not necessarily lead to expansion of service provision, especially if the incoming population is more mobile.
Against this background, The Scottish Executive commissioned this study to assess whether services are currently meeting the needs of people living in rural areas.
About the research
The study aimed to measure the views and experience of rural residents in relation to 33 different kinds of services, both public and private, and to identify strengths and weaknesses in current service provision.
The research builds upon previous work commissioned by The Scottish Office involving an audit of service provision in 50 localities in rural Scotland 1 and can be used as a baseline for monitoring future trends in service provision.
The main tasks undertaken were:
- a review of the literature on rural services;
- a survey of 2000 residents living in 50 localities. The localities used were based on the General Register Office's (GRO) 1991 Census localities used in the earlier study. These areas were selected to give a good representation of rural Scotland, covering a range of population sizes, geographical locations and degrees of remoteness;
- focus group discussions with three groups of people with particular service needs - elderly people; parents of young children, and young people - in three case study areas (Scourie, Errol and Millport);
- interviews with representatives of national organisations with an interest in service provision.
Patterns of service use
Shopping patterns for food have tended to influence the pattern of use of other services. Rural residents generally carry out main shopping trips on a weekly or two-weekly cycle by car in supermarkets outwith their locality, and shopping trips tend to be multipurpose, with a number of activities combined into a single trip. Considerable use is also made of mail order or telephone services. They recognise the impact of this on local outlets but are attracted by the combination of lower costs, even when travel is considered, and better quality and choice.
Pensioners, however, were more likely to shop locally, by bus or on foot.
Car-sharing arrangements to access services were common both amongst those with no car and those without daytime access to a car: almost a third of residents in non-car owning households said they shop by car.
Perceptions of service quality
Residents expressed generally high levels of satisfaction with the 33 services included in the study - 10 services attracted satisfaction rates of 90% or more; and a further 10 services had satisfaction rates between 80 and 89%.
Respondents were realistic about the kinds of services they could expect to be provided locally. A small number of 'core' services such as a shop, primary school, GP and community hall were seen as vital to maintain a vibrant community. For other services, they were prepared to travel to access services located elsewhere.
In choosing to live in a rural area, people made an explicit trade-off between ready access to 'urban' facilities and the other benefits they felt they derived from rural living. Most notable among these are the peace, community atmosphere and relative safety of the area in comparison with urban areas.
Although the majority of rural residents are broadly satisfied with the areas they live in and with the quality of service provision in those areas, there is some scope for improvement.
Seven services had satisfaction rates of less than 60% and these were 'other leisure' services, road repairs, sports facilities, clothes shops, out-of-school care, activities for young children, and activities for teenagers.
Residents attached the highest priorities to improvements to activities for teenagers and more general sport and leisure provision. For other services, the emphasis was on gaining or improving access to services, usually by improvements in public transport.
Groups with specific needs
The study also looked at the needs of three particular groups of rural resident - older people, young people and households with young children. The key findings to emerge from this analysis were as follows:
- Older people consistently express high levels of satisfaction with service provision, despite more restricted access to services. This seems to be the result of lower levels of expectation among this age group. There is little sign of a pent-up demand for new services among older rural residents, though older people do keenly feel the loss of existing services.
- Households with young children were particularly concerned about the future of local primary schools and the persistence (or reintroduction) of composite classes in some primary schools. There were generally high levels of satisfaction with pre-school facilities, with dissatisfaction - such as it was - focusing on the range of provision.
- The over-riding issue in service provision for young people is that of leisure and recreation. Poor or expensive transport links contribute to a widespread perception that there is little for young people to do in rural areas. These problems are exacerbated by the fact that young people appear to make strong distinctions between age groups, making it difficult to provide 'age appropriate' facilities for all groups; that - as young people acknowledge - their tastes change quickly and they quickly tire of routines and organised activities; and that young people often express a desire to access services and facilities in the large towns rather than locally.
Bridging the gaps in service provision
In considering improvements to services, service providers and local communities themselves may benefit from focusing on four different ways of providing services:
- fixed local services used predominantly by people living in the same locality; promising strategies may include attempts to make services more able to compete with rival services outside the community; new forms of ownership (e.g. community-owned shops); and new forms of joint provision (e.g. multiple use of school facilities, the location of ATMs in supermarkets or petrol stations).
- fixed non-local services to which users travel from a range of localities; the key here is to improve access by making local users more mobile. While subsidising conventional public transport may help with this, there is also a need to explore less conventional approaches to both public and private transport. These may include encouraging car and load sharing schemes and new forms of community-based, 'demand responsive' provision.
- mobile services which travel between different localities; while mobile services are already a long-established feature of the service infrastructure in many rural areas, there may be potential for expanding this approach into new service areas. In addition to wholly mobile services, such as libraries or retailing vehicles, there is scope for greater use of peripatetic services to share local facilities on a part-time basis.
- remote services which are accessed locally (e.g. by telephone or via the internet); Some forms of remote access to services, such as telephone banking and catalogue shopping are also well established in many rural areas. There is great potential for making use of the Internet as a further way of accessing remote services and information. Success will be dependent, however, on providing new points of access (e.g. in libraries, council offices) and encouraging and facilitating access among sections of the population which might otherwise be unable or unwilling to use new technology.
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1 Mackay Consultants (1996) Service in Rural Scotland. HMSO: Edinburgh