Fairer funding needed for rural Yorkshire

Graham Stuart, Conservative MP for Beverley and Holderness, who led the debate on fairer rural funding in the House of Commons.
Graham Stuart, Conservative MP for Beverley and Holderness, who led the debate on fairer rural funding in the House of Commons.

YORKSHIRE'S picturesque villages, dales and moors have for too long been mistaken as communities of ‘cosseted privilege’ by the Government, MPs have warned as they make a plea for funding reform.

Conservative members rallied against their own party in the House of Commons to demand a fairer local government settlement for rural councils, which they say don't get the same deal as urban authorities.

Former Defra Secretary Owen Paterson even suggested the party was gambling with its own future as it is ‘now the party of rural England’ following the May General Election, commenting ‘we must put this right’.

Conservative MP for Beverley and Holderness, Graham Stuart, said: “We would not accept it if the Government proposed to tax people more or spend less on them because they were black or white, Christian or Muslim, a man or a woman.

“There would be uproar.”

“There is a softness and a neatness about our countryside that can be mistaken for cosseted privilege. All ruddy-faced squires and roaring fires.

“But those of us fortunate to represent rural areas know that this is not the case and that sleepy villages can be home to people whose lives are characterised by want... every bit of tense as those in our towns and cities.”

He said discrimination was currently being carried out on the flimsiest of contexts of where ‘someone chooses to live’.

Marcus Jones, the Government’s Communities and Local Government Minister, said the Government must continue to try to tackle the deficit and has a plan to make the country one of the most decentralised in the world with fewer grants.

However, he added: “We do recognise that rural communities face particular pressures and that some rural councils with low council tax bases face particular pressures.”

Fellow Conservative MP, Kevin Hollinrake, who represents Thirsk and Malton, said: “People in rural areas pay around £81 more in council tax, but get around £130 less in their settlement funding allocation. We pay more, earn less and get fewer services, and services are harder to deliver in rural areas.”

He told the debate how council tax for a Band D property in North Yorkshire is £1430 a year, while in the City of Westminster a Band D property is £670 a year.

Mr Stuart, who has led the Parliamentary campaign Rural Fair Share since 2012, also claimed that cities receive 45% more in Central Government grants than rural councils.

He said he was also concerned that there are more elderly people in the countryside than in cities, and current funding formulas do not reflect that.

He warned against the Government’s business rates overhaul too, which allows local authorities to keep the proceeds for local spending, saying “colleagues would be wise to temper their optimism.”

Communities minister Mr Jones said: “The package we have put forward for local government will continue to see the gap between the core spending power for rural and urban authorities continue to narrow.”

The most sparsely populated areas will also get a share of the Rural Services Delivery grant, which will increase from £15m to £65m by 2019-20, and the New Homes Bonus has also been of benefit to rural areas.