Rural areas 'pay more for less' in taxes
RURAL communities in Suffolk and Essex are paying a premium on council tax and receiving fewer services in return, it has been claimed.A government watchdog has claimed people living in small villages and hamlets are not getting value for money from high council tax levels.
RURAL communities in Suffolk and Essex are paying a premium on council tax and receiving fewer services in return, it has been claimed.
A government watchdog has claimed people living in small villages and hamlets are not getting value for money from high council tax levels.
Sparse, which represents nearly 60 of England's most rural local authorities, has conducted a report into the issue and is now calling on the Government to recognise the higher cost of providing services in rural areas and the needs of countryside communities.
Steven Pugsley, chairman of Sparse, said: “What this report shows is that, when it comes to public services in the countryside, you pay more and you get less.
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“It is time for ministers to recognise the extra cost of providing services in rural areas by announcing plans to reform the grant system in this autumn's White Paper.”
Dr Wil Gibson, of rural campaign group Suffolk Acre, believes people living in isolated areas are paying a “rural premium”.
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He said: “If you take a county like Suffolk, there is not a great deal raised from council tax because the population is so small.
“The result is there's less money to go round so people in rural areas suffer. The Government needs to recognise this rural premium and the only way to do this is to provide extra support through funding. Some of us have been campaigning for this for 10 years.”
Reg Hartles, of Protest Against Council Tax Suffolk, recognised some rural communities missed out on some vital services and said people moving into such areas needed to be aware of the issue.
“People in rural areas probably do get a poor deal in comparison with townies and it's something that should be given some serious thought,” he said.
Sparse (Sparsity Partnership for Authorities delivering Rural Services) has found many council services cost more to provide in rural areas than in towns and cities.
The body is now pressing for the Government to provide extra funding to take into account the extra cost of providing services in rural areas and the needs of countryside communities.
The services it focused on were schools, home-to-school transport costs, domiciliary care for older people and refuse collection costs.
In each case, rural factors, such as sparsity, population dispersal and settlement patterns, made it more expensive to provide services.
John Anderson, chairman of finance at Maldon District Council, which is part of Sparse, said it was too early to say what would happen.
He claimed: “The Government has been taking money from the rural areas to the north as long as they have been in power - that is their stronghold.”
Tony Constable, a Colchester pensioner who has campaigned for a better deal for OAPs, said the amount of elderly people moving to the coast was another factor adding to the pressure.
He said: “A lot of elderly people are moving into those areas to retire and whereas it used to be about 30% of the population that were pensioners, now it is 64%.
“This issue needs addressing because services will be stretched even further as these people take more out of the resources in the community and cost more.
“There is a good argument to say the system does need reviewing, particularly as the fuel charges are now much higher.”
A spokeswoman for the Department for Communities and Local Government said: "This Government has provided local government in England with 10 successive years of above inflation grant increases - in all, a 39% increase in funding since 1997
“The grant distribution formula is specifically designed to calculate grant according to relative circumstances, or relative need, both in rural and urban areas. Sparsity is one factor which is taken into account in determining grant levels.
“Sir Michael Lyons is currently conducting an independent inquiry into local government funding in the context of local government's wider role and functions. He is due to report to Ministers by the end of the year and we will carefully consider his recommendations.”