Central to the work of the Rural Services Network has always been fair funding for rural areas and the detail is yet to be explored to see if rural areas have fared well from the announcements.
The Government however says that Core Spending Power for Local Government will increase by 4.5% with most of the increase in spending power from greater “council tax flexibilities”. The referendum threshold will remain at 2% but there will be further flexibility for Adult Social Care precept, to be announced “as part of the consultation on the detailed methodology for the Local Government Finance Settlement for 2021-22”.
That the increase in spending power, whilst assisted by a £300m additional grant for adult and children’s social care, will mainly be due to council tax flexibilities, causes great alarm at the RSN as on average rural residents already pay £105 (23%) more in council tax per head than urban residents due to historic underfunding of rural areas.
Chief Executive Graham Biggs of the RSN said:
“Relying on council tax payers to fund increases in council budgets, from lower than average wage levels compared to urban areas seems not only unfair but discriminatory.
In 20/21, urban areas receive some 62% (£109) per head in Settlement Funding Assessment Grant more than their rural counterparts. When the focus of the Government is on ‘levelling-up’ how long can this kind of discrepancy in funding for different areas of the country continue?”
Rural areas have higher than average figures of older residents compared to urban areas, which can place increased pressure on social services. In addition, services cost more to deliver in rural areas, due to sparsity and factors such as travel times, and reduced competitive markets for service providers. Placing the financial burden of ensuring that councils can still continue to deliver services to their vulnerable residents on those that happen to live in rural areas seems downright unfair.
The Chancellor announced the £4bn Levelling-Up fund where local areas can bid to fund projects that will invest in local infrastructure that has a visible impact on people and their communities and will support economic recovery, the Rural Services Network will be working hard to try to ensure that rural get their fair share of this funding.
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