Give rural councils their 'fair share of funding', demand MPs
A cross-party group of MPs has complained about the "unfairness" of the funding settlement for rural councils in England, during a backbench business debate on 11 February 2013.
MPs said it was not right for urban residents to receive more central government funding per head than those in rural areas - despite the latter "paying more" in council tax.
They feared the latest local government financial settlement for 2013-14, due to be voted on by MPs on Wednesday, would make the situation worse.
Under the coalition's deficit reduction plan, central funding to local authorities is being cut by £7.6bn - or 26% - in real terms between 2011 and 2015, with overall council income expected to fall by 14%.
Neil Parish, the Conservative MP for Tiverton and Honiton, led calls for a "fair share" of government funding for rural councils as he opened the debate.
"We are not asking for a change in the government's deficit reduction strategy," Mr Parish said.
"Instead we are here to press the secretary of state to revise the proposed settlement and make good on the long-standing promise to correct this historic imbalance and give rural local authorities their fair share of central government funding in line with the summer consultation."
Labour's Helen Goodman, MP for Bishop Auckland, said it was not a party political issue, but a cross-party concern.
Conservative Graham Stuart, who represents Beverley and Holderness, told the House: "There is no evidential basis for this fundamentally unfair situation."
Penrith and The Border MP Rory Stewart said it was an inherited situation going back to the 1960s.
"It is simply the last straw on the camel's back that we are talking about tonight," he said, warning that rural councils face a serious crisis.
Others pointed out that the cost of delivering services was often higher in the countryside because of the cost of transport.
Meanwhile, the Lib Dem MP for Mid Dorset and North Poole, Annette Brooke, called for transparency in the funding arrangements.
Chris Williamson, Labour's spokesman for communities and local government, said it would be unfair to impose deeper cuts on deprived authorities in urban areas to make up the shortfall in rural councils.
He blamed the situation on the secretary of state, Eric Pickles, who he said had dealt an "almighty blow" to councils across the UK.
But Brandon Lewis, the minister for communities and local government, said it was Labour "who pledged £52bn of cuts to local government".
The minister insisted the local government settlement was fair to "north and south, rural and urban".