Living on the English Welsh border
PUBLISHED: 20:43 07 February 2010 | UPDATED: 16:16 20 February 2013
Living on the English Welsh border can be far from idyllic if anomalies in services affect your wellbeing or the economic stability of your village. Judie Kellie talks to people who are working hard to make life better for those living on the edge
PHOTOGRAPHY BY SHAUN THOMPSON
The border counties of England and Wales have some of the most beautiful countryside in the United Kingdom and are rich in fascinating history and culture. Shropshire welcomes thousands of tourists every year to delight in its tranquillity and natural beauty. But for the half a million or so people in Shropshire, Herefordshire and Powys who live along the border, life can sometimes be far from idyllic. Health and social care, transport, the police and other emergency services may vary from one side to the other, with anomalies in entitlement embedded in politics, leaving some residents poorly served, sometimes angry and often confused.
Patients in a single village may have GPs in different countries and therefore have different entitlements for prescriptions, hospital provision or social services. Close neighbours may both have concessionary bus passes but be unable to use them to travel if their route crosses the border, and if they call the emergency services they may not go to their local hospital of choice because it's over the border. Since devolution two different governments are responsible for designing policies for the border areas but a recent Welsh Affairs Select Committee criticised both the Welsh and the English policy makers for failing to address these anomalies.
Not quite true. A landmark agreement on cross border working was signed in 2007, and a Newtown Conference, organised earlier this year by the West Midlands Regional Assembly, saw around150 delegates from both private and public sector agencies, working across Central Wales and the West Midlands discussing ways or working together to iron out anomalies and replace ad hoc solutions with firm agreements, ensuring the very best possible services for local people. And, now, ironically economic downturn may be helping to put commonsense at the heart of government in the borders. That is good news for Clare Fildes who 'lives on the edge' near Bishops Castle.
"We live in Wales but have an English postcode, we have an English GP but are entitled to free prescriptions in Wales and although we live in Wales our emergency hospital is in England - Shrewsbury or Telford. Pensioners living in our Welsh village are eligible for transport concessions from the Welsh Assembly but the bus from Shrewsbury to Bishops Castle and Newtown running past our door crosses the border, so they would have to pay again in England to stay on board," she says. The natural environment is affected too with two Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, The Offa's Dyke National Trail and many other protected and prized natural assets along the border being jointly managed.
Clare works for the Shropshire Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty in Craven Arms, advising community groups and businesses who want a sustainable future for the area without impacting on the environment and the wellbeing of the people who live there. "Corndon is part of the same geological range as the Stiperstones and has just as influential a connection with the mining history of the area. However as Corndon is in Wales it is not part of the AONB and cannot attract as much investment and support as the remainder of the ridge."
As part of the Cross Border Working Group, Natural England, Advantage West Midlands and the Welsh Assembly Government have all contributed funds to a regeneration strategy to help these communities in the long term. Health issues crop up all along the border. Farther north in Oswestry some patients registered with an English GP live in Dyfed Powys or North Wales Health Authority region so they and their families would find it easier to be treated in Wrexham hospital, but the choice may not currently be open to them.
Angus Hannagan, Chairman of the Shropshire County Primary Care Trust, was one of those at the conference. He says: "Locally, the counties of Shropshire and Herefordshire share similar demographics with those of our
neighbouring Welsh county, Powys. These include ageing populations, geographically hard to reach communities and pockets of deprivation. Understanding how providers can work together better to reduce policy differences can have important implications for experience and potential wellbeing of local patients."
All the agencies are working hard to sort things out. The two police forces are already on the case. "In a way the isolation of the area has meant that we have always had quite a close working relationship with colleagues over the border," says Sergeant Colin Smith from Herefordshire Police. "All we've done is formalise our arrangements so that they didn't depend on the personalities involved to make it work.
"We used to have different radio systems, phone systems, operations arrangements and administration which made crossing the border difficult. But the Chief Constables of West Mercia and Dyfed Powys have now agreed a Cross Border Joint Patrol Area so that we can openly travel through each other's patch and respond to incidents as and when. "Technological advances helped. We both had old analog systems of communications but now digital advances allow us to talk to each other on our radios. I can get onto the control room at Carmarthen, we can share resources and back each other up depending on who can get there quicker and who is available. I am perfectly at liberty to deploy a Welsh ambulance for example, in the event of a road traffic accident or an assault. We just help each other out where we can."
However, politicians stress that it's important that changes are driven by evidence from people actually living locally which is why they are consulting widely. "The economic downturn will be very challenging for public services and it will be even more important that we make the best use of public money. Co-operation should be in the blood of those in power," says Herefordshire County Council's chairman Roger Phillips.
The Reverend Julie Read thinks the economic element may make solutions more difficult; her parishes run along the Herefordshire section of the border. "In the church the border means we look to a different cathedral but on the ground we observe etiquette not necessarily geographic boundaries. As the mother of teenage children the discrepancies between Welsh and English university funding is irritating, as are prescription charge and health service differences and the pressures these bring to individual families can be huge. It's perhaps easier to work through solutions where money isn't involved." That's certainly the case with the police.
"It doesn't happen every day but where it does the cost is never raised," adds Colin Smith. "We are naturally joined communities and we now have a formalised way of helping each other and sharing resources where we can." More than 50 organisations are already signed up to the Memorandum of Understanding with a commitment to share on policy and service development in border communities and already since the Newtown conference an improved healthcare protocol has been signed to help people registered with a GP one side of the border who live on the other. Health and social care, transport, environment, agri-food and tourism and community facilities and services are all being scrutinised to ensure public and private investment is targeted to best effect for public services, infrastructure and economic development in these areas and they are keen to hear from residents about other issues they feel could be resolved.
If you would like to know more about the Cross Border Working parties or would like to offer evidence to their teams contact Sara Roberts, Rural Policy Officer at The West Midlands Regional Assembly, Regional Partnership Centre, Birmingham, BR1 2RA.
01213 525 278