Minister offers hope of rural funding boost
The Government is "still considering" changes to council grants to tackle authorities in rural areas getting significantly less than urban counterparts, a minister and Westcountry MP has said.
Conservative and Liberal Democrat MPs from the shires have backed the Rural Fair Share campaign, which argues urban councils receive 50% more funding per head than rural authorities.
The issue was debated in the House of Commons last week at the same time as a delegation from Cornwall met ministers to argue the existing funding formula means Hackney in London receives £1,041 per person while just £408 per person is allocated in Cornwall.
Yet despite fears their pleas were falling on deaf ears, Dan Rogerson, Cornish Liberal Democrat MP and Rural Affairs Minister, said that Local Government ministers are "listening to rural MPs and councillors", and are "still considering the issue of council financing".
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The campaign for greater equality has led to councils classed as being in sparse areas sharing a one-off £9.5 million grant, which many MPs believe will make little difference to multi-million pound budgets.
MPs in the countryside say rural authorities incur extra costs in providing services, while many boast some of the poorest communities in the country.
Mr Rogerson, who was a leading voice in the Rural Fair Share campaign before being appointed a minister last year, told MPs in the Commons last week he was "challenging, in a helpful, constructive and friendly way, all government departments to ensure that they are delivering for rural communities".
He said: "We had a constructive debate about what more the Government can do to help and support rural communities.
"One of my most important responsibilities as Rural Affairs Minister is on 'rural-proofing' government policies to make sure that they recognise the needs of rural areas like ours, and are unlocking the potential of rural communities and businesses to thrive."
He said the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills has recently announced a £20 million fund dedicated to keeping post offices open in small remote communities, and Defra has worked with the Department for Education to make sure that sparsity should be taken into account when allocating funding for small rural schools.
On the campaign to change the funding formula for local councils, he said: "Addressing the needs of rural and urban authorities is a difficult balancing act.
"I have been very much engaged in that and continue to be in government, talking with colleagues at the Department for Communities and Local Government about how the funding formula works and the implications for rural communities.
"We need to change the approach towards assessing the longer-term funding needs of rural local authorities, and we must bear that in mind as we move forward.
"I arranged and attended a meeting between Cornwall Council and the Local Government Minister Brandon Lewis on Monday which was a good opportunity for Cornwall Council to explain the financial pressures they are facing and to ask about the government funding formula as the Council seeks to balance the books.
"Earlier this year we succeeded in gaining some additional support for very sparsely populated areas. I know that local government ministers are listening to rural MPs and councillors, and are still considering the issue of council financing."