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Plea for county to get fair share of finance cake
LEDBURY’S MP, Bill Wiggin, is battling for the county to get a fair slice of the cake when it comes to Government money to the local authority.
He said: “I am not calling for more spending, only a fairer allocation.”
Speaking during an adjournment debate on Local Government Finance, Mr Wiggin (Conservative) praised the Government for allocating an extra £531,374 for Herefordshire, for the financial year, 2013/2014.
But he raised concerns it was likely to be a one-off grant, not addressing a wider funding problem for the county.
He said: “The Government are set to provide £72 billion of grants to local authorities in England for 2013-14.
“Despite the enormity of that figure,there is no disputing that overall spending must be reduced.
“However, even though the cake is smaller – indeed, precisely because the cake is smaller – we must ensure rural areas such as Herefordshire receive their fair share of funding. For far too long, the historical balance has been tipped against them.
“Herefordshire is the fourth most sparsely populated county in England. Itis made up of five market towns, villages, remote farms and hamlets, as well as Hereford city in the centre.
“At 42,500,the number of elderly residents in Herefordshire as a proportion of the population is well above thenational average.
“Just over a fifth of Herefordshire’s population, 22 per cent, is aged 65 and over, compared with just 17 per cent in England andWales as a whole.”
He added: “Rural sparsity is an expensive challenge for a small county. Costs for transport, social care, schools, ambulances and health services are all pushed up.
“Yet Herefordshire is not and has not been a well resourced council. The 2012-13 budget figures show that formula grant funding per capita is £311, which is 13 per cent below the national average of £358.”
He said that urban authorities are better funded under the present system, and while he welcomed the extra money from the Government for the next financial year, he added: “There is still work to be done.
First, the efficiency support for services in sparse areas funding has been provided for 2013-14 only.
“A one-off grant cannot be budgeted for in rising to the challenges that rural authorities face when delivering services in geographically sprawling areas.
“Those are permanent challenges that can, and will, never be completely overcome. It is time to give serious thought to our long-term future.”
While Mr Wiggin was critical of Herefordshire Council for raising its council tax demand by 1.9 per cent he asked the Government to look again at the way local government finances are allocated.