More support for rural areas

THE Government has pledged to do more to help rural areas and help them manage the extra costs of delivering public services in the countryside.

The pledge, by local government minister Brandon Lewis, follows a campaign by the Rural Services Network for a fairer deal for rural local authorities.

Mr Lewis says he has already spoken to individual local authority leaders, councillors and other representatives. And he pledged that he would continue listening.

He said: “Because we are listening, we are going to do more to support rural areas and manage the extra costs of delivering services in those areas.”

Mr Lewis also confirmed that he was open to having further discussions about the perceived disparity between rural and urban funding.

He said: “I have an open-door policy and am very happy to continue discussions, and I hope rural areas will be able to put together evidence – perhaps through their Rural Services Network – to back up some of their figures and prove their case.”

Rural Services Network chief executive Graham Biggs MBE said: “The reference to “going to do more” refers to the changes in the needs block to the sparsity weightings and the one-off £8.5m.

“Nevertheless the additional one-off £8.5m of funding still means that the total grant to rural authorities has fallen about 2% more than that to urban authorities.

“With so few discretionary services left, rural authorities still face deeper cuts into their basic provision while their residents already pay higher council taxes than urban dwellers.

Mr Biggs continued: “We have been massively disappointed with the settlement this year. To us the impact of damping has been nonsensical.

“We desperately need to get the Government to understand the perilous situation that services in rural areas are reaching.

“We appreciate the gesture of the £8.5m and have the evidence to back up our figures and prove our case.

“We will also be able to demonstrate the impact of any further cuts on rural services.

“We therefore very much welcome the Minister’s invitation for further discussions with rural constituency MPs, who we are happy to support.”

The Rural Services Network is a group of more than 200 organisations working together to improve the delivery of rural services across England.