Monday, 1 September 2014

Tough decisions ... or fair funding?

In the most recent edition of the Cornish Guardian, my article was as follows:

In last week’s Cornish Guardian, there was a letter from a prominent Conservative about aspects of local government in Cornwall. It was, of course, extremely critical of the present Liberal Democrat and Independent administration at County Hall, and it repeated the mantra of the need for “tough decisions” at this time of deep cuts in public expenditure.

He also wrote about the “less than steady tone of Mebyon Kernow-like voices pleading a self-imposed victimhood, and a Westminster plot to do Cornwall down.”

This is not a caricature that I consider fair or accurate.

As a political party, Mebyon Kernow is proud to call for a better deal for Cornwall and to seek fair funding for our local public services. What is more, the main Westminster parties have – when in opposition – made similar demands.

Prior to 2009, the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats regularly criticised the Labour Government for its underfunding of Cornwall and rural areas in general.

For example, in the lead-up to the last General Election, the Tory candidate in the St Austell and Newquay constituency stated: “Cornwall already receives less per head for services such as education and health. We cannot afford to be cut back and in fact … we need to make the case for increased investment in services and infrastructure.”

These are fine words in opposition, but the Coalition Government has failed to adequately address the problems that they themselves identified prior to polling day.

Take local government – instead of “increased investment in services,” the Conservative-led Coalition has slashed funding. Cornwall Council has already had to make “savings” of £170 million to cope with cuts in central government grants and to deal with the rising demand for local services. The unitary authority is now working out how – over the next four years – it can shave a further £196 million off its already constrained budget.

It is so bad that MPs – mostly from the Coalition itself – have had to set up their own cross-party “Rural Fair Share” campaign in order to put pressure on their own Government  “to work towards a fairer funding settlement” for rural areas.

Neil Parish, the Conservative MP for Tiverton and Honition put it clearly in a recent article, noting: “Under the local government financial settlement for 2014/15, urban authorities will receive 50 per cent more funding per head than their country cousins, despite the fact residents in rural authorities … pay 15 per cent more council tax and many public services are more expensive to deliver in sparsely populated rural areas.”

This is an issue that all local politicians should be taking seriously and working to address.

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