Urgent call to save vital rural services

AN urgent adjustment to local government funding is needed to deliver vital rural services, a leading MP has warned.

How to fund local public services is one of the big questions at Westminster, said Somerset MP James Heappey.

Mr Heappey, who represents the Wells constituency, is also chairman of the Rural Fair Share Campaign.

The campaign, which has the Rural Services Network as its secretariat, argues for fairer funding for rural communities.

"Rurality has a cost that hitherto has not fully been included in the funding for schools, policing, health and local government," said Mr Heappey.

"We've made some progress in the first three but on the latter more work is needed."

    See also: Rural dismay at local funding settlement

Mr Heappey has been meeting government ministers in his role as Rural Fair Share chairman.

He said he was also taking the case for fairer rural funding to Prime Minister Theresa May.

Mr Heappey said: "The headline is that soon local authorities will retain the business rates they raise locally."

In theory, this was good news because it encouraged councils to be more entrepreneurial, suggested Mr Heappey.

"The more businesses they can entice to the area, the more business rates they raise and the more money they have to spend on public services."

But Mr Heappey warned that there would be a delay before the full benefits were felt.

"We don't arrive at that self-sustaining panacea straight away," he said.

"Often the councils with the greatest costs from rurality and an ageing population are often those with the smallest business rate bases.

"It will take time for economic growth in those areas to drive up the tax take – so there needs to be a full funding formula review so that rural councils can maintain public services during the transition.

"Inevitably some significant redistribution from London and the Home Counties to the regions will be needed in the interim."

Meanwhile, said Mr Heappey, the bill for adult social care would continue to rise and rise again as life expectancy continued to increase.

"We owe all a long, happy and dignified retirement.

"But we also expect councils to deliver bus services, libraries, refuse collection, road repair and more alongside those adult social care responsibilities.

"That requires an urgent adjustment to local government funding so our councils can plan over a longer period. I'll continue to push for that in Westminster."


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