Rural councils under most financial pressure

PRESS RELEASE
For immediate release

20 November 2014

The Rural Services Network responds to a National Audit Office report that local councils are showing "clear signs" of financial stress [1]. 

Responding to the National Audit Office report, Graham Biggs, chief executive of the Rural Services Network [2], said:

“Local authority budgets have been cut very significantly, by 40% in real terms over the lifetime of the current Parliament. Rightly, the initial focus was on making efficiency savings through actions such as restructuring and sharing services.

“Financial pressures are particularly hard for small rural district authorities which have the least scope for cutbacks.

“Little, if any, scope for efficiencies now remains and cuts are inevitably hitting frontline services, particularly those defined as discretionary or non-statutory.

“In short, there is no more left to give. This is a greater problem in rural areas which have been historically underfunded and so service levels were at a low starting point before the austerity cuts were imposed.

"It is widely accepted that it costs more to deliver public services to scattered rural populations. It is unfortunate that the current formula used to allocate government grant gives little weight to this.

“The government recently introduced an additional £11.5 million pot for rural local authorities.

“It is worth £1.10 per head in those rural authorities receiving it – tiny when set alongside the £178 per head funding gap in government grant per head of population for rural areas compared to urban.”

ENDS

Media contact:

Graham Biggs
Rural Services Network
E: graham.biggs@sparse.gov.uk
T: 01588 674 922
M: 07966 790197


NOTES TO EDITORS:

1. The National Audit Office published its Financial sustainability of local authorities 2014 report on Wednesday (19 November). Local authorities have coped well with reductions in government funding, but some groups of authorities are showing clear signs of financial stress, it says. The full document can be downloaded at http://www.nao.org.uk/report/financial-sustainability-of-local-authorities-2014/

2. The Rural Services Network is a group of more than 200 organisations working together to improve the delivery of rural services across England. The two operating arms of the network are the Sparsity Partnership for Authorities Delivering Rural Services (SPARSE) and the Rural Services Partnership. Further information and a full list of members are available at http://www.rsnonline.org.uk

3. The Rural Services Network seeks to establish best practice across the spectrum of rural service provision. The network has representation across the complete range of rural services, including local authorities, public bodies, businesses, charities and voluntary groups. We are devoted to safeguarding and improving services in rural communities across England. We are the only national network specifically focusing on this vital aspect of rural life.

4. The Rural Services Network exists to ensure services delivered to the communities of predominantly and significantly rural England are as strong and as effective as possible. The term 'predominately rural' refers to counties and Local Authority districts with at least 50 percent of their population living in rural settlements (ie. rural towns, villages, hamlets and dispersed dwellings) as identified in the Office for National Statistics' rural definition, and including larger market towns as identified in the Defra classification of Local Authority districts. The term 'significant rural' refers to those Local Authorities who are between 25% and 50% rural under the same classification. The rural definition and classification were devised by the Rural Evidence Research Centre (RERC) at Birkbeck College. Further information on these can be found on the RERC website at www.rerc.ac.uk.

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