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Rural councils at risk without more funding

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: February 13, 2013

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Rural councils are facing a funding crisis and need a fairer cash deal from Whitehall, MPs have claimed.

In a rural funding debate, MPs said many local authorities in the countryside faced higher costs to deliver services than urban councils, while many rural areas generally had more elderly people requiring care and larger transport costs.

Members have been lobbying to tackle a "rural penalty" that sees urban authorities get 50% more cash from central Government than rural counterparts. But it emerged in a Commons debate the gap will be narrowed by just 0.2% this year.

The rural West Somerset District Council faces going bust, it emerged recently, and "other councils will be in the same position in a few years", warned West Somerset Tory MP Ian Liddell-Grainger.

Torridge and West Devon's Conservative MP, Geoffrey Cox, said borough councils in his constituency were facing an "existential threat" by the Government's funding proposals.

He said: "I say to the ministers on the front bench: you know, really, we can't go on fudging and dodging this. These small district and borough councils face a serious threat and I urge the ministers to take it as seriously as it deserves."

Tory Neil Parish, MP for Tiverton and Honiton, said: "The current situation just is not fair.

"We are not here to rob urban authorities of their money, but we are saying clearly to the Government that there are inequalities and they must be put right."

Dr Sarah Wollaston, Conservative MP for Totnes, raised the issue of health and social care needs in rural areas and the cost of delivering that care.

She said: "How do we justify to one of our elderly constituents that they as a person, or as a carer of somebody who has dementia, is entitled to less? Why do we rate the value of an elderly person with dementia so much less in a rural area such as Devon than we do in an inner-city area?"

She urged the Government to consider the "real challenge of rurality" and address it in distributing funding more equitably to rural areas.

Labour's Shadow Local Government Minister, Chris Williamson, said his party wouldn't support "a drift of funding from the deprived urban authorities in order to make up the shortfall for rural authorities" but agreed that rural authorities had "a very important case".

Communities and Local Government minister Brandon Lewis said the Government had reduced the gap between rural and urban and residents, but conceded it was "not to the extent that some would have liked".

He said he would be "happy to continue to talk to MPs", but that the current settlement is "fair to north and south, rural and urban".

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