Friday, 10 January 2014 19:45

Rural MPs keep pressure on ministers

Written by  Ruralcity Media
Rural MPs keep pressure on ministers

MPs have again called on the government to give rural communities a fairer deal when funding public services.

The rural communities debate was held in the House of Commons on Thursday (9 January).

Stephen Gilbert (St Austell and Newquay, Lib Dem) was among those who called for a fairer funding settlement for local government./

"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."

Anne McIntosh (Thirsk and Malton, Con),  said local residents faced a number of challenges, with parts of rural England were among the most unaffordable places to live in the country.

"Ryedale, in my area, stands out as the people working there earn less on average than those working in urban areas or in other parts of Thirsk, Malton and Filey.

"Rural homes are more expensive than urban ones.

"The average house price in the countryside is equivalent to 6.3 times gross annual average earnings, compared with 4.9 in urban areas."

Sir Edward Leigh (Gainsborough, Con), said: "There is an altogether too rosy picture of rural life, particularly in metropolitan circles."

The reality of life in some remote rural areas was "often very tough indeed," said Sir Edward.

"The cost of living in rural areas is often not recognised.

"One can get bogged down in statistics and details, but it is important that we, as MPs who represent rural areas, put on the record the sheer cost of living in rural Britain, compared with living in urban Britain.

"People who live in entirely rural seats a long way from the capital are very under-represented in this city.

"Often, our voice does not get through. That affects all essential public services."

Nia Griffiths, (Llanelli, Lab) said there was a "real problem" of rural poverty.

"Some of the hardest-hit areas are former mining areas, places nobody would ever have dreamt of building houses had there not been mines there.

It was hard to find work, transport costs were high and all the local costs were much higher than in urban areas, yet rural incomes were not comparable to those of the sort of people who could commute.

"Rural poverty is a major issue, therefore, particularly in many of the former mining areas of south and west Wales."

In response, Defra minister Dan Rogerson acknowledged that it was a "difficult balancing act" for the government to address the needs of rural and urban authorities when it came to local government finance settlements.

Mr Rogerson said he continued to talk with MPs, communities and local government about how the funding formula worked and the implications for rural communities.

The Efficiency Support for Services in Sparse Areas grant of £8.5 million during 2013-14 helped the top quartile of rural authorities by sparsity of population, he said.

The government would be providing further support worth £9.5 million so that the most rural local authorities could drive forward efficiencies in their areas.

But Mr Rogerson acknowledged to that the government's approach needed to change.

"We need to change the approach towards assessing the longer-term funding needs of rural local authorities, and we must bear that in mind as we move forward.

"We need to consider how we support rural local authorities in increasing their income from business rates retention, and we need to develop a longer-term solution to supporting the transition."

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