The National Rural Conference 2024

The Rural Services Network (RSN) is thrilled to announce the National Rural Conference 2024, taking place from 16th to 19th September. This virtual event, accessible via Zoom, is the premier gathering for senior officers, members, policymakers, and rural service professionals.
Further information and booking details can be found here

Addressing Rural Funding Challenges

The Rural Services Network (RSN) is committed to highlighting the unique challenges faced by rural councils in delivering quality services. Recent parliamentary discussions shed light on the critical issues surrounding the funding of local councils, particularly in rural areas like Shropshire.

Rural Services Delivery Grant

The Local Government Funding Formula was changed back in 2013-2014 and the changes would have largely benefited rural areas. However the damping process to enable these changes to flow through to rural areas was frozen in place.

The Rural Services Delivery Grant (RSDG) was introduced as a response to the financial strain caused by the damping freeze and the dysfunction of the existing funding formula. Initially intended as a temporary measure, the RSDG aimed to alleviate the additional cost pressures and logistical challenges of providing services in sparsely populated rural areas. Over time, however, the RSDG has become a crucial component of funding for some rural councils (they don’t all get it!), underscoring the need for a long-term solution.

Challenges in Rural Service Delivery

During a recent parliamentary session, Helen Morgan, MP for North Shropshire, highlighted the significant challenges faced by rural councils. These include the higher costs associated with longer travel times and the difficulties of serving dispersed populations. The discussion emphasised that while urban deprivation is often more visible, rural deprivation is equally pressing and requires tailored funding solutions.

Helen Morgan cited the example of Shropshire, where the council has faced severe budget cuts, amounting to £50 million in the last financial year and projecting an additional £60 million in the coming year. Such cuts have far-reaching impacts, particularly on vulnerable populations dependent on social care. The high proportion of the budget allocated to social care - 85% compared to a national average of around 66% - leaves little room for other essential services like libraries, highways, and waste management.

Specific Issues Highlighted

Helen Morgan provided affecting examples of the struggles faced by her constituents, including the story of an elderly couple in Ellesmere who faced significant stress due to the withdrawal of a sheltered flat for their disabled daughter. She also highlighted the broader issue of half a million people in England waiting for social care, illustrating the widespread nature of this crisis.

Other areas of concern include the closure of recycling centres, which could lead to increased fly-tipping, and the challenges in providing transport for children with special educational needs. In Whitchurch, the closure of the civic centre due to structural issues further exemplifies the difficulties in maintaining community facilities.

The Need for a Sustainable Funding Formula

The RSN has set out a number of asks of the political parties in relation to fair rural funding ahead of the general election:

  • Address fairer funding through the completion of the Need and Resources Review for Local Government Funding in the first 12 months of the next Spending Review period.
  • Ensure funding for the Social Care Reform proposals uses a formula which recognises the whole range of costs faced by rural councils and care providers.
  • Protect rural council tax payers by fairly funding public services to ensure they are not asked to pay more to fund local services than their urban counterparts.

Further information can be found at : www.rsnonline.org.uk/winning-the-rural-vote

Government Response and Future Steps

Simon Hoare, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, acknowledged the financial pressures on local councils and the unique challenges faced by rural areas. He highlighted the increase in core spending power for Shropshire and the additional £9 million allocated through the RSDG for 2024-25. However, he also emphasised the need for local councils to continuously seek efficiencies and modernise their service delivery.

The RSN urges all political parties to prioritise the needs of rural communities in their policy agendas. Ensuring fair and adequate funding for rural councils is essential to maintaining the quality of life and economic vitality of these areas. As we approach the next general election, the RSN calls for a cross-party consensus on a sustainable, long-term funding solution for rural services. The challenges are clear, and the need for action is urgent.

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