Funding inequalities could destroy public services in rural areas

Central government funding per resident in county authorities was almost 50% below large cities last year, with councils saying the situation could quickly deteriorate, new research released today by the County Council Network (CCN) has found.

In response to the findings, the CCN has called on the government to end the ‘postcode lottery’ of public services before irreparable damage is done.

Collectively, England’s 37 county areas received £3.2bn less than the English average this year, around £650 per person compared to an average of £825 for city of metropolitan borough residents.

The organisation is expected to use its annual conference this week to tell the government that, unless a new financial deal is agreed, frontline services will have to be cut.

Cllr Paul Carter, the CCN’s chairman, will say: “Our services are threatened and under pressure like never before. Unless these inequalities are addressed, many of the highly valued services to our public will diminish or disappear.

“For too long now, the 26 million people in England’s shire counties have not received a fair share of national resources. This means our Shire heartlands are receiving an eye-watering £3.2bn less than other parts of the country for services.

“This impacts on the daily lives on our residents, all whilst they unfairly subsidise services enjoyed in other parts of the country through higher council tax bills. This is outdated and chronically unfair.”

With pressure building on services in these areas, some councils have turned to devolution and integration strategies to try and get more funding and power from central government.

Last week, communities and local government secretary Sajid Javid told officials he was minded to approve the longstanding plans for a Dorset council merger which would create two unitary bodies rather than multiple smaller organisations.

This announcement came despite criticism from three of the affected councils, as the other authorities claimed the move could create efficiencies across local services and save money while protecting public services.

The CCN will look to this Wednesday’s Autumn Budget announcement for central government commitments over county spending.

With services stretched across many councils in the UK and the government green paper on social care planning pushed back to 2018, councils are expecting major funding promises to ensure basic services can continue operating normally.

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