Funding cuts pile pressure on services

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Rural local authorities are set to lose one third of their funding from central government – in a move which will pile further pressure on already over-stretched public services, the Rural Services Network (RSN) has warned.

RSN chief executive, Graham Biggs MBE, issued the warning as he and other senior RSN representatives met new Local Government Minister Rishi Sunak to discuss the Provisional Local Government Finance Settlement for 2018-19 and its impact on rural communities.

Under the original Four-Year Final Local Government Settlement, rural areas were set to lose more than 31 per cent of their central government funding, while urban areas would lose just 22 per cent, said Mr Biggs.

But the recently-announced Provisional Local Government Finance Settlement for 2018-19 made the situation even worse.

Mr Biggs said: “Rural residents get a really rough deal.

“On average, they earn less than their urban counterparts and pay more in council tax – but receive less government grant and receive fewer services which cost those residents more to access.”

Rural areas have long been unfairly treated and underfunded when it comes to Local Government Finance Settlements.

Rural areas also have significantly larger older populations than urban areas, which contributes to higher costs when it comes to delivering public services, including social care, to sparsely populated communities.

Mr Biggs said: “The Provisional Settlement reinforces the view that there appears to be a conscious policy decision by the Government that rural services should be increasingly funded by council taxpayers.”

This meant there was an unacceptable widening in the gap in Government Funded Spending Power between predominantly urban and predominantly rural areas, Mr Biggs continued. With delays in introducing a new fairer funding formula, there was a clear need for the government to extend transitional arrangements to ease the pressure on services.

Mr Biggs said: “‘These deeply held concerns were put by the RSN directly to Local Government Minister Rishi Sunak.

“As an MP representing the largely rural constituency of Richmond, North Yorkshire, it was clear that the Minister is well-versed in the problems faced by rural authorities in delivering services in a continuing climate of austerity.

“Mr Sunak recognised RSN’s role in championing rural areas and campaigning on behalf of rural authorities as they struggle to mitigate the effects of years of budgetary constraints.”