MP Ian Liddell-Grainger: Cuts threaten disaster for countryside
The British countryside could be abandoned within generations, an MP has warned, if cuts to funding that heavily favour urban areas are not prevented.
It has been proposed that predominantly rural authorities will see formula funding cut by an average of 3.81 per cent, against a cut of 2.04 per cent for urban authorities. Even worse off will be “significantly” rural authorities, who face a cut averaging 5.21 per cent.
Ian Liddell-Grainger, the Tory MP for Bridgwater and West Somerset, which includes much of Exmoor and some of the most sparsely populated areas of the country, is one of a group of 50 MPs supporting the Rural Services Network, which has condemned such cuts.
Communities and Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles insists the allocations are fair, pointing out that shire councils’ spending power is falling by just one per cent, while the average for all councils is 1.7 per cent. But Mr Liddell-Grainger says no one will fall for suich “sleight-of-hand”, arguing that far from the argument that fewer people require less spending, “the reality is that the cost per head of delivering those services is far higher in the countryside – and that absolutely must be taken into account.”
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He warns of depopulation on the scale of that seen in France, where entire villages were abandoned as rural life became impossible.
A rural charity has also warned of impending disaster, following changes to welfare payments. Cirencester-based Action with Communities in Rural England (Acre) says the higher cost of living in the countryside means that annual rises in benefit payments capped at one per cent will be brutally felt in rural areas.
Figures from the Office of National Statistics show weekly spending by rural households (£510.50) is more than £50 higher than for urban households (£458.30), while research from NFU Mutual shows rural inflation is twice the national average.
The ONS Family Spending study for 2009-11 suggests it costs £2,700 a year more to live in the countryside than it does in a city, taking into account the extra cost of transport.
Acre’s director of policy and research Nick Chase said: “There is no doubt that these latest Government proposals are a harsh blow to those low-paid rural families who are already struggling to make ends meet. Countryside residents are heavily dependent on cars due to a lack of public transport, typically having to travel twice as far to reach their nearest shops, banks and post offices. We are calling on the Government to seriously consider the impact of benefit cuts on rural communities before rubber-stamping these proposals.”