The distance to the nearest grocery store, pharmacy, library, or school gradually increases the closer you live to the northern borders of Sweden and Finland, and the further west from Copenhagen you live in Denmark.
In Norway, the geographical patterns aren’t as clear, but even here there are large differences between the municipalities in sparsely populated areas and large cities.
“It’s important that people have access to key services wherever they live. Throughout the Nordic Region, we’re seeing interesting examples of grouping services into service points and that new digital services are making everyday life easier for rural residents. It gives people security and is a prerequisite for them to be able to live wherever they want,” says Sigbjørn Gjelsvik, Norway’s Minister of Local Government and Regional Development and host of the Nordic ministerial meeting on 10 May.
Involving young people from sparsely populated areas
The Nordic ministers now want to involve young people in sparsely populated areas to get their suggestions on how rural areas in the Nordic Region should be developed so that they themselves would want to live and work there.
A new overview of knowledge about the fundamental need for services in rural areas in the Nordic Region was the basis for the ministers’ discussion.
At the meeting, the ministers also brought with them examples from their countries on new ways of safeguarding public and private services, thereby increasing public confidence that it’s possible to invest, live, and work in sparsely populated areas.
Swedish service points and Danish education for rural areas
Anna-Caren Sätherberg, Sweden’s Minister for Rural Affairs, spoke about the expansion of state service points in the rural areas of Sweden. They will give rural populations access to services from authorities such as the Swedish Social Insurance Agency, the Swedish Tax Agency and Swedish Pensions Agency.
There are currently 116 service points around Sweden and more are on the way.
“I’m convinced that the state presence throughout the country is important for keeping the country together, for trust and legitimacy,” says Anna-Caren Sätherberg.
Denmark is working to make education in the welfare professions and university education available in more regions. This comes as a response to the challenge of recruiting healthcare and social care staff to work in rural areas, as well as skilled labour for companies outside the metropolitan areas.
Remote work continues
The proportion of Nordic citizens who work remotely is expected to remain high after the pandemic.
According to the Nordic research institute NordRegio, there’s great potential for remote working in the Nordic Region, where 9.5 million jobs (or 37 percent) could be done remotely.
The intensified trend of multilocality – i.e. people living and working in several different places – also provides new perspectives on the needs and development of rural areas.
Trend can lead to growth within the regions
This means that, for example, digital solutions won’t only be a way to improve essential services in rural areas, but also enable people to educate themselves and work remotely from their summer house.
The ministers took part in an initial interim report on multilocality, which they’d commissioned from the Nordic research institute NordRegio in 2021, and discussed how the Nordic Region can support the trend of multilocality in order to create sustainable growth within the regions.