Sunday, 13 October 2013 19:34

Minister to meet 'fair share' campaigners

Written by  Ruralcity Media
Minister to meet 'fair share' campaigners

THE government has agreed to meet with campaigners calling for a fairer deal for rural local authorities.

Local government minister Brandon Lewis agreed to the meeting after MPs called on the government to recognise the significantly higher cost of delivering rural public services.

The plea was made during a backbench debate in the House of Commons on Thursday (10 October).

Rural residents pay more council tax each than their urban counterparts – yet receive fewer public services in return, according to calculations by the Rural Services Network.

Mr Lewis said he had met with the rural sparsity group calling for fairer funding and was happy to do so gain.

"No doubt we will meet again over the next few months as we get towards the funding settlement," added Mr Lewis.

The debate was led by Neil Parish (Tiverton and Honiton), who called on the government to consider the high cost of delivering public services in rural areas.

I am not seeking to steal money from urban authorities; I seek a fair deal for rural authorities as well," Mr Parish told MPs.

"It must be recognised that the rural authorities are not getting their fare share."

Rory Stewart (Penrith and the Border) said MPs fighting for a fairer rural deal for nearly three years often found themselves facing scepticism from officials and ministers.

"There is an implication that what rural areas are asking for, which is a quarter of a percent of funding year by year is either based on faulty statistics or is somehow going to have no impact. It is that which I wish to challenge."

Rural areas should not be seen as marginal victims, just because 90% of the population lived in cities, said Mr Stewart.

"It makes an enormous amount of difference because rural areas are in a very unusually fragile position in this country – more so than almost any country in the world."

A petition for fairer rural funding is due to be delivered to parliament by Tory MP Graham Stuart (Holderness and Beverley).

Mr Stuart said the government was "freezing in" the inequities that saw rural people pay more in council tax and receive fewer services.

Some 50% more went per head to urban areas than to rural areas, he added.

"That cannot be frozen and kept in place at a time of change; it must be unwound, and there must be other reforms."

Stephen Phillips (Sleaford and North Hykeham said the cross-party campaign for a fairer deal deserved to be recognised by the government.

"These are the poorest communities in the country and they get the roughest deal. On average they pay £75 more per head in council tax than anywhere else.

"The minister has to deal with this. He has heard the strength of feeling on both sides of the House—this is a cross-party campaign, as he knows."

In response, Mr Lewis said: "I have heard the clear and passionate comments that have been made today. We will consider them over the next few month as we approach the spending review."

In his closing comments, Mr Parish said he and other rural campaigners would take up the offer of meeting again with Mr Lewis and would be "looking for his cheque book".

Mr Parish added: "What we actually want is help – as my grandmother used to say, an ounce of help is better than a ton of pity.

"We want some help, not just warm words, so we look forward to a real solution."

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