Raw deal for rural communities on public services

Cheviot Hills. Picture by Jane Coltman
Cheviot Hills. Picture by Jane Coltman

People in the countryside are continuing to get a raw deal on essential public services because government funding unfairly favours larger towns and cities, says England’s largest rural partnership.

The Rural Services Network says countryside communities are losing out on important funding for local authorities, including for services such as adult social care, public health and schools – as well as the NHS, police and fire and rescue services. This, it says, is not new but a case of longstanding historic underfunding.

The Network says government funding to local government is distributed in such a way that rural people end up paying more council tax than urban people yet receive fewer local services.

Network chief executive Graham Biggs MBE said: “This is fundamentally unfair – the system should take full account of higher service delivery costs in rural areas.”

In 2014/15, for example, fire and rescue services in urban areas received 37 per cent more in government grant funding per head of population than those in predominantly rural areas.

The Network’s warning comes hot on the heels of a warning by doctors that NHS services in rural areas are being underfunded by hundreds of millions of pounds each year.

Mr Biggs said: “It is widely accepted that those delivering services to scattered rural populations face very significant extra costs but the funding formulae fail to properly reflect this.

“It is not just (so-called) ‘super sparse’ local authorities and other service providers which must meet substantial additional costs; all predominantly rural and some significant rural authorities/service providers must do so.”

Mr Biggs said a recently introduced £15.5million Rural Services Delivery Grant to reduce the disparity between town and country for some local government services was worth just £1.10 per head in those rural authorities receiving it. This was tiny when set alongside the £178 per head difference in government grant to urban areas compared to rural, he added.

Mr Biggs said: “In 2012, the government increased the allowance for sparsity in the local government formulae and exemplified a gain of £247million to 170 rural authorities by that move. However, in the final settlement, some 75 per cent of that was lost.

“That increase for sparsity was a start to put right historic wrongs and we call upon the government to give us (rural authorities) what it owes us without delay.”