Why rural areas need fairer funding – Paul Andrews

MUCH has been written about the disparity of government funding between North and South. However, very little is ever published about the disparity of funding between the conurbations and rural areas.

Rural areas in districts like Ryedale miss out on public funding compared to urban areas, says Malton councillor Paul Andrews.

Urban areas in 2021/22 will receive some 61 per cent (£107) per head in settlement funding assessment grant more than their rural counterparts.

Rural residents will pay, on average, 19 per cent (£96) per head more in council tax than their urban counterparts due to receiving less government grant.

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Rural residents will fund 69 per cent of their local government spending power through council tax compared with urban residents who fund theirs by 57 per cent

Rural areas needed fairer funding from the Government, writes Paul Andrews.

In short, rural residents pay more, receive fewer services and, on average, earn less than those in urban areas. The reasons are purely political. Over the years there has been a drift of population from country areas to the cities.

As the cities have grown and their population increased, the number of MPs representing urban areas has also grown. So, for example, the Greater Manchester Area has 27 MPs, each representing about 70,000 constituents on average, while York and North Yorkshire have only eight MPs.

This may seem reasonable, bearing in mind that Greater Manchester has a population of more than two and a half million, whereas less than 800,000 people live in York and North Yorkshire.

So, the more numerous urban MPs have more influence over the distribution of government grant than their rural colleagues.

Market towns like Thirsk receive unfair funding compared to urban areas.

In the past (an ever more distant past) it could be said that Labour mainly represented the urban working class and the Conservative party mainly represented the country areas.

This distinction has long gone, as the Conservative Party recognises that they can’t win an election without winning urban seats. The consequence is that the Conservative Party is no longer the “country party”.

Perhaps it is only right that a sparsely populated area like York and North Yorkshire should be represented by so few MPs. This is fine until one looks at the size of this area, which is 8,654 square miles. This compares with 493 square miles for Greater Manchester: you could fit the whole of Greater Manchester inside Ryedale District!

This leads to the issue of sparsity. The further apart people live the more services cost. Council refuse lorries, for example, have to travel vast distances to do collections, in country areas, while, in the conurbations, they can go from house to house, and there are added time and fuel costs which don’t apply in the conurbations. Similar considerations apply to many other services, road maintenance, for example.

Notwithstanding this, country areas are not given even the same amount of funding per head of population as applies to the conurbations – we need more but we get less. Some services seem to have been cut altogether. You only have to look at the litter along the A64 to realise how little is being done to collect it.

The lack of investment in the countryside is serious. Millions are spent on fancy city centre civic and commercial developments and costly inner city ring roads, while promises are made and hopes are raised once more for the dualling of the A64 to Scarborough – only to be dashed, yet again, at the next government spending review.

The ultimate injustice comes when we have to bid for money for flood relief schemes. Money is allocated according to a cost/benefit formula which is designed to produce schemes which benefit the most people per pound spent. So, what little money is available is mainly spent on flood relief for the cities, and country areas struggle to get any of it.

Thousands of acres of good agricultural land are sacrificed to hold back water which might otherwise flood the cities, while the Environment Agency neglect regular river maintenance, hence why it takes a national crisis for Whitehall policy-makers to recognise the value of the countryside.

We need a more balanced political system like the United States, which has a Senate with two representatives from each state – regardless of population – and a separate Congress which is elected on the basis of population, like our House of Commons. This could be done in this country by completing the reform of the House of Lords so as to make it more representative of countryside interests.