For immediate release
Friday 5 February 2015
Rural communities in last ditch plea
for fair deal from government
The Rural Services Network  is making a last minute plea to the Government to listen to the views from rural councils, rural MPs and rural people and change tack on its plans in the Provisional Local Government Settlement to reduce grants to rural areas at a higher percentage rate than grant reduction in urban areas over the next four years.
The controversial proposals which emerged in December have been widely criticised as being unrealistic and that they will cripple councils in rural areas .
Rural Services Network chairman Cecilia Motley said: "We plead with Government please do not do this. This is a horrible miscalculation. It will make life for hundreds of thousands of people across all areas of rural England totally insufferable."
Councillor Motley said: "It will hit hardest those most in need of public services. Those in need of care. Those in need of transport. Those in need of support."
Rural areas have complained for many years that they receive less grant and consequently less services than people in urban areas but still have to pay higher council taxes out of a lower average income .
Despite this, the Government has in its provisional settlement predicated sharper grant reduction in the countryside - a 31.2% reduction over four years in rural areas compared to a -21.6% reduction in urban areas.
Rural Services Network chief executive Graham Biggs MBE said already cash-strapped local rural councils would face the prospect of being forced to increase council tax to a level much more than their urban counterparts - and even then having to undertake swingeing service cuts.
Proposed changes to the funding formula had been applied unevenly and at the last minute by the government and, without any forewarning, had the effect of further penalising rural areas, said Mr Biggs.
Mr Biggs said: "It is unthinkable that a Government which has indicated understanding of the rural situation is now planning to further increase the gap in government funding between urban and rural areas."
He added: "If all Councils do raise Council tax as assumed, then by 2019/20 Predominantly Rural Authorities will be 71.2% reliant on Council Tax compared to 56.5% in Predominantly Urban."
Mr Biggs said: "Cuts in grant have been difficult to live with for five years but they have been similar percentage reductions across rural and urban areas.
"Now out of nowhere come proposals that will decimate rural services while urban areas get a much lesser level of grant reduction."
Mr Biggs added: "To compound the situation still further, government ministers assume in their figures that rural residents will have to pay even more in council tax than their urban counterparts. It is astounding.
"Rural Councils at County, Unitary and District levels all face an impossible task if this goes through. The efficiency savings have all been made and any easy savings decisions were taken years ago.
"Rural areas have a lower starting service level. If this settlement remains as currently proposed rural residents and rural businesses face a tsunami of swingeing cuts to essential front line services. There will be no alternative."
An announcement from the Government is expected early next week, with the matter expected to go before Parliament on Wednesday, 10 February.
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Rural Services Network
T: 01588 674 922
M: 07966 790197
Notes to Editors:
1) The Rural Services Network is a group of more than 200 organisations working together to improve the delivery of rural services across England. The two operating arms of the network are the Sparsity Partnership for Authorities Delivering Rural Services (SPARSE) and the Rural Services Partnership. Further information and a full list of members are available at http://www.rsnonline.org.uk.
2) The full response to the funding proposals is contained in the Rural Services Network's submission to a government consultation on the issue which can be seen at https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/provisional-local-government-finance-settlement-2016-to-2017-and-an-offer-to-councils-for-future-years
The network's full response to the consultation is at http://www.rsnonline.org.uk/images/files/SPARSE-Response-to-2016-17-Provisional-Settlement.doc
3) The network has calculated that urban councils already receive around 45% more funding per resident than their urban counterparts. At the same time, rural residents pay on average £81 per head more in council tax than their urban counterparts.