Under fire: Budget cuts threaten rural communities

Press release
26 November 2012

For immediate release

Pressure on public funding threatens to put rural communities at risk when it comes to fire and rescue services, warns a report.

The annual State of Rural Public Services report [1] was published by the Rural Services Network [2] on Monday (26 November).

Rural fire and rescue services receive less funding than urban fire and rescue services – despite facing particular costs, the report says.

Predominantly rural fire and rescue services receive just £17.52 per head of population, compared to £28.89 per head of population for Greater London and metropolitan areas [3].

On a per capita basis, the most urban areas thus receive two-thirds as much funding again as the most rural areas – even though rural fire and rescue services face particular costs.

Higher rural costs include more fire appliances and more fire stations than would be needed in urban areas to serve the same size of population.

At the same time, rural distances mean less opportunity to hold down levels of cover in one fire station, knowing that back-up cover is available from a neighbouring fire station.

Report author Brian Wilson, of Brian Wilson Associates [4], said.

"Ensuring adequate emergency cover for rural communities is a serious matter.

"Fire and rescue services may not be used as a part of daily life in rural areas but their ability to respond quickly and effectively to emergencies are of critical importance."

This year's report also focuses on differences between rural and urban broadband availability, business support and actions to address fuel poverty.

Improvements are needed across all three areas, the report says.

Nationally, two-thirds of users now have access to a fast broadband connection and a rapidly growing number can access superfast broadband. The same cannot be said for rural users.

At the same time, satisfaction with support services varies among the 505,000 rural businesses which contribute almost a fifth of the country's economic productivity (GVA).

Low earnings are exacerbating the problem of fuel poverty, which is most prevalent in rural areas, the report says.

A key reason is that the majority of homes in villages and hamlets are off the mains gas network, leaving households dependent on more expensive fuels.

Councillor Roger Begy OBE, chair of the Rural Services Network, said:

"We are approaching the mid-point of a four year squeeze on public expenditure announced by the 2010 Spending Review.

"Local authorities, whether in rural or urban areas, face large reductions in the formula grant they receive from Government to fund the running of public services.

"There is every indication that there will be further severe cuts imposed by the Government on local government, with rumours of another 20% reduction in the next review, if not sooner.

"A fairer deal for rural areas in the distribution of Government formula grant is long overdue and would, at least, help to soften the impact.

"It is important that Government now confirms it will take more account of sparsity costs from 2013 onwards and that it does so in full."

Graham Biggs MBE, chief executive of the Rural Services Network, said:

"This report really drives home the added challenges of delivering public services in rural areas where local authorities have to deliver more with less.

"Nevertheless, it gives me great pride to see innovations in these areas which should serve as an example to local authorities across Britain who are having to survive budget cuts."

ENDS

Media contact:

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

NOTES TO EDITORS:

1) The full State of Rural Public Services 2012 report can be downloaded at: www.rsnonline.org.uk/images/files/SORS-2012-FinalReport-15Nov.pdf

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) Central government calculates a funding allocation for FRAs based on its assessment of spending need, which it uses to distribute 'formula grant'. In 2012/13 the average funding allocation for shire FRAs classified as 'predominantly rural' is £17.52 per head of population. This compares with £28.89 per head of population for Greater London and metropolitan FRA areas. (pp 21-22, State of Rural Services Report 2012).

4) Brian Wilson Associates offers high quality research, evaluation and advice, to support organisations which make, shape and deliver policies. Services include policy reviews, including rural proofing advice; strategy and plan development, and research. Further information is available at http://brianwilsonassociates.co.uk

5) First Group plc is pleased to be the sponsor of the State of Rural Public Services 2012 report. First Group is Britain's largest bus operator running more than one in five of all local bus services. A fleet of nearly 8,500 buses carries 3 million passengers a day. It also operates Greyhound UK. First Group also operates passenger rail services, including regional, intercity and commuter services. Its rail operations are First Great Western, First ScotRail, First Capital Connect, First TransPennine Express and First Hull Trains.

6) 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.

7) The Rural Services Network exists to ensure services delivered to the communities of predominantly 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 rural definition and classification were devised by the Rural Evidence Research Centre (RERC) at Birkbeck College. Further information on these can be found at http://www.rerc.ac.uk

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