Cautious welcome for provisional settlement

The Rural Services Network has given a cautious welcome to the government's provisional local finance settlement for local authorities.

But the network has also warned warned that more must be done to ensure a fairer deal for rural communities.

The provisional local government finance settlement for 2018-19 was announced by Communities Secretary Sajid Javid on Tuesday, 19 December.

It includes a £15m increase in the rural services delivery grant.

Responding to the announcement, RSN chief executive Graham Biggs MBE said: "On balance it was a good settlement for rural authorities – but, as always, the devil is in the detail which we have not seen yet.

"Once again, the Secretary of State went out of his way to say that rural authorities are important and that he wants to increase funding to them.

"There was also an increase in the Rural Services Delivery Grant (RSDG) which irons out the anomaly of the reduction in 2018-19 – although this is more symbolic than making a huge different in cash terms."

Mr Biggs said it was important to note that only "super sparsely populated" local authorities would receive the RSDG grant.

This was even though other rural authorities also faced higher costs associated with providing public services to sparsely populated areas.

The decision to make no changes to the New Homes Bonus scheme was also welcomed.

But Mr Biggs said it was very disappointing there was no extra help for adult social care, the costs of which were much higher in rural areas.

This was because rural areas had a greater older population and higher service delivery costs.

It was also disappointing there was no replacement for the Transition Grant.

Mr Biggs said this would hit hard those rural authorities which had received it and mean more cuts to frontline services in many rural areas.

He said: "Rural residents continue to pay more, receive fewer services and, on average, earn less than those in urban areas and that is inequitable."

Council tax was historically high in rural areas to compensate for systematic underfunding of rural areas by government grant, said Mr Biggs.

"Given this, it remains grossly unfair to rely on council tax to fund council services more in rural areas than in urban areas – especially given that rural wages are lower."


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