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Country News - 2003

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Pay more for less: the countryside scandal

Tuesday 02 September 2003

ONE OF THE great suspoiscions of rural taxpayers was officially confirmed yesterday: we do pay more than townsfolk - and receive fewer services in return.

This is the conclusion of a nationwide survey by an organisation of 50 local authorities with scattered population densities which has got together under the name of Sparse to probe some of the inequalities of treatment between rural and urban life.

The report, 'Funding town and country' says that:

  • Rural local authorities budget to spend well over the level provided for in government grant support for key services like education, social services and fire
  • They are also forced by financial constraints to target spending on things they have to provide by law, such as flood defence and the growing cost of waste collection
  • This leaves less for non-statutory services like parks and open spaces and cheap public transport
  • The Government has not commissioned any independent research on the extra cost of providing services in rural areas, while indicators of urban deprivation weigh heavily on the grant allocation system
  • The Government's methods for distributing financial support to council have always been controversial.

An earlier 1998 study by the same group also highlighted the fact that lack of support for authorities serving rural communities meant that their budgets were eaten up by services that had to be provided by law.

As a result, there was very little money left for discretionary services, like free transport and leisure facilities. Access to services was further hit by poor public transport, and by the high proportion of older people living in countryside who find it hard to get out and about.

'Funding town and country' is available in summary form, free, by emailing groberts@webershandwick.com

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