Rural councils under financial pressure

Rural councils are under the most financial pressure claims the Rural Services Network.

It was responding to a recent National Audit Office report that local councils are showing “clear signs” of financial stress due to government cuts.

Graham Biggs, chief executive of the Rural Services Network said: “Local authority budgets have been cut very significantly, by 40% in real terms over the lifetime of the current Parliament. Rightly, the initial focus was on making efficiency savings through actions such as restructuring and sharing services.

“Financial pressures are particularly hard for small rural district authorities which have the least scope for cutbacks.

“Little, if any, scope for efficiencies now remains and cuts are inevitably hitting frontline services, particularly those defined as discretionary or non-statutory.

“In short, there is no more left to give. This is a greater problem in rural areas which have been historically underfunded and so service levels were at a low starting point before the austerity cuts were imposed.

“It is widely accepted that it costs more to deliver public services to scattered rural populations. It is unfortunate that the current formula used to allocate government grant gives little weight to this.

“The government recently introduced an additional £11.5 million pot for rural local authorities.

“It is worth £1.10 per head in those rural authorities receiving it – tiny when set alongside the £178 per head funding gap in government grant per head of population for rural areas compared to urban.”

Local people have already experienced cuts with East Sussex County Council proposing cuts to many rural bus services.

Tourism has also been affected with tourist information centres forced to close.

More cuts are expected to be made by the county council and Rother District Council due to them having their funding drastically cut by Government.

There are also serious concerns over staffing levels at Rother District Council with staff struggling to answer phones and the council directing residents towards its web site.