I have begun the new Parliamentary year by focusing on the gap between Government spending in urban and rural areas. As a member of the Rural Fair Share group, I attend regular meetings and met colleagues this week to discuss the Provisional Local Government Finance Settlement.
The grant set up to help rural authorities deliver services in the countryside has been given a massive increase in the Government’s local government finance settlement. It follows months of campaigning by the Rural Fair Share Campaign.
The Rural Services Delivery Grant, which provides additional resources to councils in rural areas to meet the additional costs associated with sparse populations, will increase from £15.5 million in 2015/16 to £65 million in 2019/20.
This follows years of cross-party campaigning from members of the campaign to close the funding gap, which sees urban areas receive on average 45% more funding per resident than rural areas.
The increase in the Rural Services Delivery Grant is good news. It’s the most significant increase we’ve seen yet, and I’m grateful to the Secretary of State for listening to the concerns of rural MPs from all sides of the House. I am pleased that he recognises the unfairness of the current system, which sees poorer, older, and more heavily taxed rural residents receive fewer local government services.
It’s disappointing that the Government hasn’t committed to the full £130 million which our campaign has asked for, and that next year’s increase will only see the grant increased to £20 million. There’s a long way to go yet, and we will be campaigning to improve the deal further before the vote in the House of Commons in February.
Like all areas of the public sector, local government has to make savings in order to deal with the deficit inherited from the previous administration. Every bit of the public sector needs to do their bit to pay off the budget deficit, including local government which accounts for a quarter of all public spending. Councils should continue to focus on cutting waste and making sensible savings to protect frontline services and do all they can to keep Council Tax as low as possible. I know that Shropshire Council remains optimistic over the future and their ability to manage their budget.
I would encourage my constituents to contribute to Shropshire Council’s ‘Big Conversation’ consultation on the overall future of council services. The deadline for responses is 31st January.
I am pleased that Cllr Malcolm Pate was confirmed as the new Leader of Shropshire Council just before Christmas, with Cllr Steve Charmley as his deputy. They will bring a wealth of experience to their roles and I look forward to working with them closely in the months and years ahead.