Small towns across the country are being gutted and that is true of our local economy of Rye, Bexhill and even Hastings.
The threat to the High Street shopping areas comes from a combination of reduced consumer spending due to Brexit uncertainty and a progressive move to buying on-line, where the giants have the unfair advantage of paying little or no tax and at the very least avoid paying the rates that most shops cannot avoid.
The local council budgets are being progressively decimated so that all the facilities that add civility to our towns are being cut and even statutory functions are now under threat. Rother exacerbated this problem in past years by using up reserves in order to avoid increasing rates – a momentarily popular move that we are still suffering from now. Add that to the cuts in funding for the Police, the judiciary, the NHS, schooling, support for the young, the elderly and the disabled, and the sense of an economy running out of control becomes palpable.
The current consultation from Rother District on a Rye Neighbourhood Plan ended on January 11th. See http://www.rother.gov.uk/neighbourhoodplans for details.
The only way that the council thinks that they can square their budget dilemma is to buy commercial property using money supplied by central government at very low rates, and hope that they can rent it out at a profit. The problem with this strategy is that the council does not have the skills to assess the risk or manage the problems that can, and certainly will arise.
Trip Advisor suggests that there are 260 properties available for holiday rental within 10 miles of Rye. While this is a tribute to the tourism industry of the area, it is also a worry that so many properties are not permanently occupied by people that will participate in the local community. Who will attend the local schools, buy in the local shops and care about their neighbours.
MLAG (The Marsh Link Action Group) are campaigning for better rail services which can go a long way to keeping Rye connected to the London economic powerhouse, but there are many other elements to the local infrastructure that can make a massive difference – roads, reliable high-speed internet access, education etc.
Britain is the 5th largest economy in the world (by GDP) but we represent less than 1% of the world’s population. Despite this phenomenal economic advantage, we still seem unable to provide housing for all those that need it, and over one third of all our children are now growing up in poverty.
It is truly absurd that despite these really pressing political choices which should be at the heart of the national and local debate, all we seem to have space for is the endless discussions on the 50 shades of Brexit.
This rural divide is not a problem unique to Britain. The French have seen the ‘gilets jaunes’ (Yellow Jacket) rioting across the country and the USA have had Trumpism. They are both, at heart, a rebellion against the same issues of small towns being ignored by those in the metropolitan elites.
It’s not just time for us to be angry – we need to get organised.