Integrated, Territorial Strategies for Services of General Interest
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Safeguarding public services of general interest (SGIs) is understood as a precondition for high living standards and the attractiveness of rural areas. However, this right of service availability is increasingly in the discourse at European, national and regional level. The latter are particularly affected by the disparities of basic supply of services between rural and urban areas, especially in the Alpine Arc. The main challenges inherent, is the demographic change – the depopulation in rural areas, brain drain as well as aging. Furthermore, various public authorities and private service providers at different levels take responsibility to provide SGIs. Crucial for the quality of service provision, and that effects the difference between municipalities, is the availability of financial resources. Moreover, the structure, compactness, geomorphology and topography of rural Alpine areas influence the accessibility of SGIs meaningfully. To find new pathways and possibilities of ensuring service delivery, the Alpine Space project INTESI was initiated in 2016. Stakeholders from five Alpine Test Areas (TAs) (Italy, Switzerland, Austria, Slovenia and France) that face similar challenges in the delivery of basic services but are confronted with different framework conditions exchange their knowledge, experience and discuss innovative strategies for improving the accessibility and availability of service of general interest. The aim is to overcome the traditional sectoral approach of SGI delivery by applying an integrated, territorial approach and exploiting vertical and horizontal synergies between the different sectors and administrative levels. This concept seeks to ensure the need for an efficient and effective output-orientated delivery of SGIs in rural areas. For this purpose, researchers from the EURAC Institute of Regional Development designed regional profiles to compare the current SGI delivery among TAs according to their availability (GIS maps), accessibility (spatial-statistics) and service quality (workshops and interviews). These findings, together with elaborated scenarios for predicting population trends, serve to identify future challenges and to apply a demand-orientated service delivery. The preliminary results show a strong regulation of services by sectoral legislation in TAs and an increasing willingness for cooperation between the administrative levels, municipalities and other sectors. Especially in the field of education, the TAs guarantee a good supply of services as each municipality has traditionally still its own church, school and post office. Furthermore, tourist destinations offer due to higher demands more facilities and a better quality of services of general interest compared to other municipalities in the test areas. Although merging municipalities is for sociocultural reasons rather refused than favoured, sharing services is on the opposite less problematic, particular when that accounts for a financial benefit. That concerns among others the health sector. Here, the municipalities accept and even promote the centralized service of telemedicine to cope particular with the demographic change, which requires in remote areas an increasing demand for mobile nursing and elderly care, and to control the steadily rising costs for medical care. A prerequisite for this is the patient awareness, good communication infrastructure and close cooperation between the telecommunication and health sector. Finally, the INTESI think tank members, consisting of SGI providers, authorities and other stakeholders, will valorise the project’s recommendation on SGI issues. Their input provides an essential contribution to the EUSALP Action Group 5 “Connect people electronically and promote accessibility to public services” within the second pillar of the EUSALP strategy “Ensuring accessibility and connectivity for all inhabitants of the Alpine Region”. Moreover, the findings of the project will contribute to the Alpine Space Programme objective 2 – “Increase capacities for the delivery of services of general interest in a changing society”. The delivery of public services is fundamental to enable equipollent living conditions as they provide the preconditions for individual self-fulfilment, social inclusion and territorial cohesion, which is coherent with the objectives of the Cork 2.0 Declaration of 2016 for a better life in rural areas.