The warning is contained in the network's response to the government's 2017-2018 provisional funding settlement for local authorities.
The proposed settlement risks “crippling public services in rural areas” and forcing local authorities to raise council tax to a significantly higher level than urban areas, said the network.
It added: “The government’s plans are likely to make life for people across rural England extremely difficult, hitting hardest those most in need of public services.”
See also: Rural dismay at funding settlement
Grant cuts had been difficult for all local councils over the last five years, said the network. But until now, the axe had fallen reasonably equitably across both rural and urban areas.
Under the recent four year final local government settlement, however, rural areas would lose over 31% of their central government funding, while urban areas would lose about 22%.
The network said: “The provisional settlement just announced seeks to implement the second year of the four year settlement and, in addition, makes it even worse."
The situation followed the chronic underfunding of rural areas by successive governments, said the network.
Rural areas were getting a raw deal – despite acknowledgement of the higher cost of providing services to remote communities and the lower than average incomes of rural people.
The network also criticised the government’s core spending power figures.
It said the figures took for granted that rural residents would have to pay even more in council tax than their urban counterparts.
“That is a cynical miscalculation which, has undoubtedly contributed to the present disaffection between rural residents and Westminster,” it said.
The network said it “fundamentally disagreed” with changes to the methodology for calculating the government's revenue support grant, which was introduced in the 2016/17 settlement.
The inclusion of council tax in the calculation of RSG reductions had resulted in significantly higher reductions for rural areas than for urban areas.
It appeared that the government was content for rural people to pay more council tax from lower incomes and to receive fewer services than their urban counterparts.
“This is manifestly unreasonable and grossly unfair,” it warned. “The Rural Services Network cannot accept this position.”
The network's full response can be downloaded here.
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