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MPs fight for fair rural funding after Government knock-back

By GDemianyk  |  Posted: January 10, 2014

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Conservative and Liberal Democrat MPs have continued to pile pressure on the Government over rural communities being short-changed.

The Rural Fair Share campaign, being led by ministers from the shires, has argued urban councils receive 50% more funding per head than rural authorities.

But their push for a semblance of parity only resulted in councils classed as being in sparse areas this year sharing a one-off £9.5 million grant – which one MP last night claiming one authority will get as little as £650.

Some remain angry against the prospect of the most disillusioned voting against the Government’s Finance Bill, which would represent a significant rebellion.

Speaking during a House of Commons debate on rural communities, Stephen Gilbert, Liberal Democrat MP for St Austell and Newquay, said the Government should “push ahead with this idea of getting a fair share for rural areas”.

He said: “In Cornwall, the reality is that we have higher than average council tax, lower than average earnings and less money spent per head in the rural areas than in the urban areas.

“Closing that gap by just 10% a year for the next five years would mean an additional £16 million of income for people in Cornwall.”

MPs in the countryside are arguing for reform in recognition of the fact that rural authorities are under-funded and incur extra costs in providing services.

Anne McIntosh, Conservative MP for Thirsk and Malton in Yorkshire, and also chairman of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee, said “rural communities pay higher council tax bills per dwelling yet receive less Government grant and have access to fewer public services than their urban counterparts”.

She added the Government have in part recognised their “misjudgement” by sanctioning the one-year grant, but said: “Some payments are as small as £650.”

The MP went on: “As welcome as any extra funding is, that is clearly not the long-term solution to the problem of rural councils not getting their fair share.

“Regrettably, the Government rejected our call for the gap in funding between rural and urban councils to be reduced. We must and we will continue to press the case.”

The debate also warned of the chronic shortage of affordable rural housing, the slow roll-out of vital high-speed broadband roll-out and the damaging impact of the “bedroom tax” beyond towns and cities.

Neil Parish, Conservative MP for Tiverton and Honiton, warned the off-grid energy supply in rural areas, where there is not enough competition between oil companies to deliver heating oil.

“Many constituents of ours will probably never get on to mains gas, but heating oil is an alternative,” he added. “We have to get more competition and get the prices down for people in rural areas who use oil for their heating.”

Ex-Rural Affairs Minister David Heath, Liberal Democrat MP for Somerton and Frome, warned without 100% accessibility for high-speed broadband “we will do an immense disservice to people in very rural areas”.

The MP said homes and businesses expected to miss out should be given funding available to ensure such accessibility.

He said: “We want not a bidding system or matched funding, which is not available in rural areas, but the Government to finish the job.”

Margaret Thatcher’s former private secretary Sir Edward Leigh, MP for Gainsborough MP, criticised the so-called chattering classes for depicting rural life as idyllic.

He said: “I think there’s altogether too rosy a picture of rural life, particularly in metropolitan circles. Some people who write our national newspapers seem to think that we all live in Cotswold villages, in lovely stone houses inhabited by media moguls having country lunches, or retired admirals.”

In response to the debate, Rural Affairs Minister and Cornwall MP Dan Rogerson – who as a backbencher supported the Rural Fair Share campaign, conceded “we need to change the approach towards assessing the longer-term funding needs of rural local authorities”.

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7 comments

  • BobToronto  |  January 10 2014, 4:28PM

    I repeat. Local governments should raise their own taxes. To complain that other local governments are getting more is pathetic, like a child complaining that Billy down the road has more pocket money or is allowed to stay up later. Some Provinces in Canada have there own VAT rates. The money is collected by the Feds and then sent to the provinces. The provinces set their rate which is added to the Federal 5%. Why cannot Cornwall have it's own VAT % added to the existing VAT? There are still arguments in Canada between governments. The arguments about different rates for rural and urban areas seems from Toronto to be unwinnable. It there a third rate for suburbs? I have suggested to Mr Rogerson in the past that he and his government should copy the more successful ex colonies of the UK. He did not respond. Perhaps he likes to be part of the problem

  • break  |  January 10 2014, 4:22PM

    Fair? Let me get my dictionary,I forgot what that means.

    |   1
  • dee_2  |  January 10 2014, 12:19PM

    We see and hear a lot from the local Libdems and Tories about the inappropriate development going on all around us in Cornwall. But the fact is, it is THEIR GOVERNMENT doing it. Their government has luminaries such as Pickles, Paterson and Bols who shouldn't be allowed to run a tap let alone something as important as our precious environment. Our MPs can't have it both ways. If they want to stop being part of the problem, then they should resign from their respective parties and stand as Independents.

    |   9
  • josdave  |  January 10 2014, 11:51AM

    This is all about holding onto their seats in 2015 and nothing to do with caring for the rural communities. As has been said they do what the whip says and then say something different in public. Hypocrites!

    |   6
  • towerofbabble  |  January 10 2014, 11:32AM

    The Labour government provided biased support to its Northern heartlands for years. Sadly a change of government did not see a change of policy; Scotland and the North are being appealed to with money and projects as the Tories seek desperately to win back any form of voter support in those regions. In the West we, as ever, get the crumbs off the Westminster table and this won't change while the population remains relatively small. Our only recourse is to attract private business and investment to our counties, and not bellyache about a lack of government funding which will never come. That said, in Cornwall we had a lot of European money on the table for years with Objective One -- did we effectively use that? No. And don't get me started on the airport or Penzance harbour. Until we improve the quality of our local administrators (especially those tasked with regional development), and the promotion of the assets we already have, we can't expect to be taken seriously by the wider world.

    |   2
  • D-Head  |  January 10 2014, 10:56AM

    Well said nickthompson. Vote UKIP next year and get rid of the lot of them. And make a start by voting UKIP for the euro elections in May. This is the only way to break up the cosy Lib-Lab-Con troika.

  • nickthompson  |  January 10 2014, 9:48AM

    "Conservative and Liberal Democrat MPs have continued to pile pressure on the Government over rural communities being short-changed" -------------------------------------------------------------------------Pile pressure my ****, do you not sit on the government benches, YOU ARE THE DAM GOVERNMENT, you voted for them, and now getting what you voted for, so STOP PRESSURING YOURSELVES.

    |   11

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