Rural council tax payers handover £75 more but get less services than urban areas, MP warns (From The Westmorland Gazette)
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Rural council tax payers handover £75 more but get less services than urban areas, MP warns
4:00pm Sunday 13th October 2013 in News
Penrith and the Border MP Rory Stewart has called on the government to recognise the higher costs faced by local authorities in rural areas - and give them more cash.
In a debate in Parliament, Mr Stewart highlighted the 'fragility' of rural communities and said they face significant under-funding in health, education and other essential services.
The Conservative member also warned of the "perfect storm" involving an ageing population and communities struggling with issues of fuel poverty and unaffordable housing.
The MP said figures released by the Rural Services Network show that on average, rural residents pay council tax which is £75 higher per head of population, yet receive substantially less support for service provision.
In the way Whitehall dispenses grants, rural areas will only receive 65 per cent of the grant given to urban areas.
For very rural areas like Eden - authorities will face cuts of close to five per cent as opposed to an average cut of two per cent to urban councils, he said.
Mr Stewart explained that this equates to a reduction in spending power of 2.10 per cent for rural authorities.
The MP drew attention to the fact that Cumbria's Clinical Commissioning Group is under threat of a 10 per cent cut to its budget of £62 million pounds; its Fire Service is already in receipt of one of the lowest allocated budgets in the country; and the National School Funding Formula continues to fail to recognise factors of sparsity, with the 'sparsity factor' determined on proximity to school, rather than distance by road.
Speaking in the House of Commons chamber, he said: “There is an implication that what rural areas are asking for, which is a quarter of a percent of funding year by year, is either based on faulty statistics or is somehow going to have no impact. It is that which I wish to challenge.
"This quarter of a percent matters because rural areas are precious. They are precious, they are fragile, and they have never been so fragile.
"They are being depopulated – we can walk across the English-Scottish borders where we see houses abandoned and where we can see parishes which in 1850 had 2500 people which are now down to 300."
" In those valleys are the very last traces of our history and very last traces of our landscape which we do not, in this house, wish to turn into a wilderness. So that sounds like a very grand statement to come down to a quarter of one percent."
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