Rural areas paying council tax price

TWO local authorities in rural East Anglia are todaybacking a new report warning that householders in the countryside are paying higher council tax bills to subsidise spending in cities.

TWO local authorities in rural East Anglia are todaybacking a new report warning that householders in the countryside are paying higher council tax bills to subsidise spending in cities.

Babergh District Council and Maldon District Council are in a coalition of more than 50 of England's most rural local authorities fighting for a better redistribution of government money.

The councils are in the lobby group SPARSE (the Sparsity Partnership for Authorities delivering Rural Services) which is sending a report to Sir Michael Lyons, chairman of the government's independent inquiry into council tax.

The report warns that council tax levels are higher in the most rural parts of the country than they are across the rest of England - and this gap is wider this year than it was two years ago. Spending per head on local services is lower in SPARSE areas than across England, says the report.


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Steve Pugsley, co-chairman of SPARSE, said: ''We are calling on ministers to close the widening council tax gap between city areas and the countryside: as things stand, we are confronted by plain fiscal unfairness.

''The way in which government grant is distributed enables councillors in the more urban parts of the country to achieve the apparently impossible, namely to spend more than those in rural areas but to charge less in council tax.''

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Colin Spence, vice chairman of Babergh's strategy committee, said the councils' viewpoint on the allocation of money needed to be heard.

''In rural areas we have problems as well but they may be masked and not show up in the indices. Although Babergh is seen as an affluent area we do have some areas of social deprivation and we have a higher percentage of older people, often single pensioner households, who need support to live in their rural areas. We do have a duty to provide services for everybody,'' said Mr Spence.

He said Babergh's grant allocation this year was lower than expected and this put pressure on the council to try to deliver a good quality of service with less money - and without knowing what next year's allocation could be.

The inquiry will report to ministers before the end of 2005. Local Government Minister Nick Raynsford said recently the government was ''well aware'' of the issues with the current system of local government funding and the arguments for change.

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