In this week's column I am maintaining a rural theme after the debate in Parliament last week about food security and the need to support our farmers further. This week in Parliament, MPs debated funding for rural services. I am a member of the Rural Fair Share Working Group and our objective is to secure fair funding for rural areas. Currently urban councils enjoy more generous settlements from government than rural councils like Cornwall Council. Just before Christmas the Government published the provisional local government funding settlement for the next four years and I welcome the significant increase in the Rural Services Delivery Grant to £65.5 million by the end of the four year settlement. It is an important recognition of the additional costs of delivering services in more sparsely-populated areas.
However, even with the Rural Services Delivery Grant, the gap in central government funding between urban and rural residents will widen further under the provisional funding settlement, despite the fact that urban residents already receive a 45% premium.
As it stands, members of the Rural Fair Share Working Group, including myself, do not find the settlement acceptable and we would not be able to support it.
We are calling for the local government savings to be applied evenly across councils’ central government grant, as they were in the previous Parliament. We are also calling for the Rural Services Delivery Grant to be increased to £130 million over the four year settlement. This figure is the residual amount from the Government’s own calculations in 2012 regarding the additional financial burden that scarcity places on rural councils.
Rural MPs, particularly in the Southwest, are working together to secure fair funding settlements for health, education, policing and local government and, as we succeed, we will be correcting a funding arrangement that has discriminated against rural areas over successive governments. The most significant challenge facing Cornwall today is the need to integrate health and social care and reduce pressure on acute hospital services. This kind of reform requires additional funding at the outset which is one reason why our Rural Fair Share campaign is so important.