Sparse calls for rethink on rural funding

2 Jun 05
The government must act to correct the council tax injustice suffered by country areas, a coalition of 50 English rural councils is demanding.

03 June 2005

The government must act to correct the council tax injustice suffered by country areas, a coalition of 50 English rural councils is demanding.

The second manifesto from the Sparsity Partnership for Authorities Delivering Rural Services (Sparse) reiterated a plea to Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott to amend the council tax system, since rural dwellers pay more for fewer services.

Sparse chief officer Graham Biggs said: 'As things stand, the way government grant is handed out to councils fails to reflect the obvious extra cost of providing services for rural communities.

'Worse, it is evident that research in this area continues to be ignored. The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister was briefed last month on fresh evidence that the unit cost of providing public services in the countryside is double that in urban areas.'

Biggs urged both the government and opposition parties to take a fresh look at how the funding formula could be adjusted. 'We need new thinking to address the needs of rural communities, if they are to avoid becoming depopulated or mere dormitories,' he said.

But an ODPM spokeswoman said that council tax was set by local authorities, not the government, and added that there was no excuse for excessive council tax increases in any area.

'The grant distribution formula is specifically designed to calculate grant according to relative circumstances, or relative need, in both rural and urban areas. Sparsity is one factor which is taken into account in determining grant levels,' she said.

Last week, in his first speech as local government minister, Phil Woolas said the government recognised inflationary pressures on local authorities but these needed to be better forecast and understood.

'For example, it is important that local government takes ownership of its pay and workforce costs – and bears down on them in the same way that other parts of the public and private sector are doing,' he told a Society of Local Authority Chief Executives' conference on May 26.

'Overall, there needs to be a much greater focus on how money available to local government is spent and how decisions about that are taken at a national level, rather than just the continual pressure from councils for even more government funding.'

PFjun2005

Did you enjoy this article?

AddToAny

Have your say

Top