THE RURAL SERVICES NETWORK (RSN), the body representing rural councils in England, is calling on government Ministers Eric Pickles MP and Bob Neill MP to reduce the deficit in local authority funding for those who live in the countryside in comparison to those who live in towns from the figure of 50%, down to 40%.
The RSN campaign launched last week says that research shows that the funding gap between urban and rural areas has grown dramatically since 1997 and now stands at £163 per head. This is not because of a shift in needs over that time but the result of previous government alterations to the distribution grant to favour urban authorities. Responding to a formal Government consultation the RSN is asking the government to use the Local Government Resource Review to end this inequality.
The RSN points to the formula used for distributing central government grant and says that this has failed to properly recognise both rural deprivation and the significantly higher delivery costs of some important services in predominantly rural areas.
Councillor Roger Begy, Chair of the Rural Services Network and Leader of Rutland County Council, said:
“Whilst in opposition Bob Neill MP described the system as “beyond its useful life” and said that the operation of the formula system “significantly disadvantaged Shire Areas” . The system is still broken and we are calling on Mr Pickles and Mr Neill not to miss this opportunity to start to fix it. We accept that deprived areas should receive higher levels of funding and are not calling for complete parity. However, in light of the higher cost of providing essential services to rural residents we feel that reducing the gap from 50% to 40% is both fair and justified.”
Local MP Graham Stuart, who chairs the All Party Parliamentary Group on Rural Affairs, said:
“Social housing provision is far lower in rural areas, currently at just 13% of the housing stock, compared with almost 20% in urban areas. Furthermore, rural Britain faces a 76% shortfall in affordable housing, squeezing many people out of the market. I think it is extremely disappointing to see such discrimination against those who choose to live in a rural area. Rural communities are at the losing end of an inequitable system and I am determined to fight the rural cause until the government stops and listens.”
The Local Government Resource Review undertaken by the Department for Communities and Local Government will consider the way in which local authorities are funded, with a view to giving local authorities greater financial autonomy.
So… what are your views on this issue? Do you think rural communities are treated unfairly?