Monday, 21 October 2013 09:39

VIDEO: MPs press for fairer funding

Written by  Ruralcity Media
VIDEO: MPs press for fairer funding

MPs press the case for a fairer funding settlement for rural local authorities during a House of Commons debate.

The backbench business debate took place at Westminster on Thursday, 10 October 2013.

It was secured by Conservative MP for Tiverton Neil Parish, and Liberal Democrat MP for North Devon Sir Nick Harvey.

MPs from rural constituencies argued for a fair deal for local authorities that are historically underfunded compared to their urban counterparts.

The debate culminated in a pledge from local government minister Brandon Lewis to meet again with campaigners for fairer funding.

Speaking afterwards, Mr Parish said the backbench debate showed the strength of feeling on all sides of the House.

"Although I welcome the local government minister's remarks, we are only asking for one tenth of 1% of the total budget to be shifted towards rural authorities each year to put an end to the current situation where urban councils get 50 percent more per head than rural ones."

Sir Nick Harvey said the government was giving no thought to the current funding settlement at a time when local governments were being squeezed to unprecedented levels.

"Unless urgent action is taken to get rid of the disparity, constituencies like mine in North Devon are going to end up with far fewer social workers, buses and care services for vulnerable children.

"It is unacceptable. Rural-dwellers are receiving only two-thirds as much local government funding as people in cities.

"Local people will – rightly - no longer put up with this unfairness while watching their public services erode."

That view was echoed by Graham Stuart MP, who is leading a Rural Fair Share campaign.

Mr Stuart said: "Many MP colleagues from across the country have come together in the Rural Fair Share campaign to demand change.

"Last week's debate allowed one after another to press the Government to hear our call.

"I set up the Rural Fair Share campaign because the rural voice has been too little heard and too easily ignored.

"Historic injustices have been reinforced rather than removed. This must change."

The campaign is calling for the 'rural penalty', which sees 50% more per head going to urban councils, narrowed to no more than 40% by 2020.

Mr Stuart said: "If the government won't unpick the funding model then we need the £8.5 million rural efficiency grant we secured last year to be increased to at least £30 million.

"This is just over 0.1% of the £24bn settlement and just over 0.2% if we only consider the £12bn of Revenue Support Grant.

"This issue won't go away and dozens of my colleagues on the government benches are equally determined to ensure a local government settlement which is fair to all – including their long neglected rural constituents."

Roger Begy, chairman of the Rural Services Network and leader of Rutland County Council, said: This issue of gross unfairness to rural communities is not going to go away for the government.

"This is not just a question of pressure on libraries and access to services but just as importantly on small village schools and adult care services."

Funding from central government for local authorities has always been a contentious issue.

As a result, there is a complicated system of formulae that seeks to address the varying needs and inequalities that exist in different parts of the country.

Despite this recognition, rural authorities have historically been underfunded.

In the early days of the previous Labour government most grant allocations were based on past spending choices.

This meant the more authorities spent and the less efficient they were, the more grant they received.

Many rural authorities, who have had to be more financially prudent, still feel trapped by this.

While the Labour government broke this link for several services, the situation still persists, if less directly.

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