Sunday, 24 January 2016

Fair funding for rural areas

In the 2015 General Election, would-be Conservative MPs across the United Kingdom pledged fair funding for rural areas, but the actions of David Cameron’s administration show such promises to have been hollow.

Just look at the latest local government funding settlement, which was announced just before Christmas.

Government ministers have claimed that increases to the “Rural Services Delivery Grant” will benefit non-urban local authorities, but the reality is that any gains are more than out-weighed by other cuts.

And overall, the settlement will actually shift funding from rural to metropolitan areas, and it has been condemned by the Rural Services Network as “fundamentally unfair for rural communities.”

In a House of Commons debate on 11th January, Conservative MPs even lined up to criticise their own government on this issue.

In the debate lead by Graham Stuart MP of the Rural Fair Share Group, former minister Owen Paterson MP described the settlement as “still extraordinarily unfair” while Simon Hoare MP stated that “it would reduce local government to being neither sustainable nor deliverable.”

He made it clear that he could not support it and, in colourful language, added that in his county of Dorset the local council in making cuts had not only “trimmed off” the fat, but “we have gone through the surface of the bone and, in some instances, are sucking out the marrow.”

Cornish parliamentarians were present and St Ives MP Derek Thomas rightly recounted how rural areas had consistently received “less money per person” than in urban areas.

He added: “This has affected our ability to care for our elderly, educate our children, provide public transport, deliver our health services, care for people with severe learning difficulties, police our streets, invest in our infrastructure and deliver council services … all have suffered as a result of years and years of underfunding.”

I was however very disappointed at the comments of South East Cornwall MP Sheryll Murray, who seemed more interested in moaning about the lack of “Labour Members representing urban areas” taking part in the session.

I would remind her that the United Kingdom has a majority Conservative Government. It is made up of 330 Conservative MPs in Westminster and these MPs have the collective ability and power to deliver fair funding for rural areas such as Cornwall.

So let’s have action on this issue, instead of just an angst-filled Commons debate.

[This will be my article in this coming week's Cornish Guardian].

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