The recent dramatic shift from widely distributed, mostly State-owned, enterprises to sparsely represented, private corporations has been viewed in the popular mind as an urban phenomenon (Leyshon and Thrift, 1993). However, it can also be argued that the provision of services like banking in small towns has been much more significantly affected by government restructuring policies as such services are usually the first to be withdrawn from areas of low population density (ibid.). This, in turn, suggests that the provision of services in rural areas is held in less regard by banking corporations than their provision in urban areas. Furthermore, even with the many institutional and economic changes that occurred in New Zealand during the 1980s and 1990s, and which have compromised the very existence of some small towns, the importance of basic services is taken for granted by many providers (Coombes, 1992).
In New Zealand restructuring has wrought considerable changes in the provision of services funded by the State and private organisations, not only in terms of the number of such services available but also the form they take. Restructuring in New Zealand began with 'Rogernomics', a period of social and economic change initiated by the fourth Labour Government after the 1984 election. So called after its chief proponent, Roger Douglas, 'Rogernomics' saw the introduction of economic policies which involved the corporatisation or privatisation of many state activities, taxation reform, reduction in the Welfare State, and market liberalisation. All involved frequent mergers and corporate restructuring, a movement that soon embraced the privately funded service sector (Le Heron and Pawson, 1996).
Change was not confined to the local and national levels in New Zealand. Rather, throughout the process of globalisation, services have been restructured around the world. Indeed, Dicken (1998) argues that regardless of our position in the world economy we cannot fail to be aware that what is happening in our backyard is the product of forces operating at a much wider geographical scale. Commonly identified as 'economic globalisation', the accelerating flows of capital, investment and trade across the globe since the 1970s have been symbolised by the rapid growth of transnational corporations, speculative financial investments, and state liberalisation (Fagan and Weber, 1994, Linge, 1993, Dicken, 1998). Some commentators, among them Castells (1989), believe that compression of time and space has rendered meaningless the central geographic notion of place. Paradoxically, globalisation has, in reality, reaffirmed the importance of the local level and local diversity (Fagan and Weber, 1994, Peck and Tickell, 1994).
In addition to generating new forms of what is essentially risk investment, globalisation is associated with the emergence of 'super competition' - or, as Arndt (1987) termed it, 'Market Darwinism' - in which firms are forced to restructure to remain profitable. These broader international influences have not been without impact on New Zealand. The defeat of the Labour Government in 1990 did not end the process; the in-coming National Government continued the transformation of New Zealand's economy. This was accomplished through a series of policies occasionally referred to as 'Ruthanasia', after the Minister of Finance, Ruth Richardson who initiated many of them (Easton, in Rees et al., 1993).
Until the 1990s, a relatively high level of service provision still existed in New Zealand, which, in turn, was an important component of the quality of life enjoyed by small town residents. Coombes (1992) suggests this is a consequence of the rural sector of the nation's economy, especially farming, being viewed favourably in the New Zealand political arena and ensuring that rural communities were 'looked after' in terms of service provision. However, since then few, if any, rural services have escaped the cycle of restructuring: few as radically as the Post Office, health care, or education, and certainly none as extensively as banking services, the focus of the current study. The key question posed in this research is how local communities coped with restructuring. Coombes (1992) suggested that governments sitting during this restructuring period assumed that small town communities would simply cope with change. The current study examines how, when faced with change, small town people develop coping strategies which will, in turn, affect the social fabric of the town at the individual level and may lead to a new consensus of opinion and communal action in rural centres.||