Harry Humphrey,cabinet member for finance and performance.

Pledge to keep fighting for Norfolk cash to protect rural services

Friday, February 8, 2013
12.00 PM

The government has been warned that Norfolk leaders will not stop banging the drum to get more cash to protect vital rural services from the axe.

Norfolk has been handed just under £600,000 to help keep vital services running in rural areas, but critics have said the government is still neglecting the countryside in favour of cities.

And the county’s council leaders, who had lobbied for extra cash, have pledged to keep fighting for a fair deal for Norfolk.

The money is a slice of an extra £8.5m “efficiency support” to be distributed following complaints councils serving sparsely populated areas have been underfunded - putting services such as rural buses and support for older people at risk.

Cash will be given to Norfolk County Council (£412,400), West Norfolk Council (£48,800) North Norfolk District Council (£44,500), Breckland District Council (£49,000) and South Norfolk Council (£26,500).

However, while council leaders welcomed the extra money. they said the government needs to recognise that rural areas like Norfolk, where it costs more to provide services, still need more help.

Harry Humphrey, Norfolk County Council’s cabinet member for finance and performance, said: “Norfolk, like many other predominantly rural counties, has to absorb the higher costs of delivering essential services, whilst as a rural county we also receive less government grant per head of population, when compared to urban areas.

“It is with this in mind that we, along with other rural councils, have been lobbying the government over a number of years for more funding to meet the extra costs that we face.

“I am pleased that the government has listened to us by way of providing us with this additional grant, which is helpful, but is some way from addressing the shortfall that we are suffering. We will continue to push for a fairer deal for Norfolk.”

Tom FitzPatrick, leader of North Norfolk District Council, agreed that the government needed to go further than a one-off grant.

He said: “We are very pleased that central government has listened to us and has at last recognised the fact that more needs to be done to support rural areas like North Norfolk, where it is simply more costly to provide the services the community needs than it is in urban areas.

“One size simply does not fit all in this case. As a rural district council we have been campaigning hard for a long time; we are also very grateful to our local MPs for the work they have done in Parliament to make the case on our behalf.

“We can only hope that this will not be a one-off hand-out but that the government’s new understanding of the reality of life in a rural area will be taken forward and developed within future grant settlements.”

Nick Daubney, leader of West Norfolk Council, said: “We are pleased there has been recognition that it is more expensive to provide services in rural areas. We recognise we are not going to get the same as urban areas, but anything which closes the gap has to be welcomed.”

The extra money was announced by Brandon Lewis, Great Yarmouth MP and local government minister. He told Parliament: “Following consultation we have concluded that more needs to be done to further support rural areas.”

He said the government was aware the costs of providing services in highly rural areas could be more costly than in urban areas.

He said: “On top of that, we are providing £8.5m additional funding in 2013 to 2014 as a separate new transitional grant to help authorities secure efficiencies in services for sparsely populated areas.”

Bill Borrett, acting leader of Norfolk County Council, said: “I am really pleased that we are receiving this money and would like to thank the government for listening to us.

“Our budget proposals, which were presented to cabinet last month and which go to full council on February 18, reflect the difficult times we live in, not only for councils and the national economy, but for local businesses and our residents.

“The county council will continue to support Norfolk’s most vulnerable people, especially our older people and children, while giving a high priority to supporting jobs and the economy through targeted spending designed to help support local businesses. In order for us to achieve these ambitions it is vital that the council not only raises as much revenue as it can itself, but also lever in as much money as possible - whether within the UK or from Europe.

“The Sparse Areas money that we have secured is a good example of us highlighting the challenges Norfolk is facing at a national level and speaking up for the benefit of our county and residents.”

Before Christmas, a coalition of councils, known as Sparse - Sparsity Partnership for Authorities Delivering Rural Services - and part of the Rural Services Network, said councils which were “predominantly rural” would see the amount given to them by central government cut by 3.81pc compared to the average 2.05pc reduction for an urban council.

On the extra cash, David Inman, director of Sparse Rural, said the coalition was grateful for the extra resources.

But he said: “Nonetheless, the additional one-off £8.5m still means that the total grant to rural authorities has fallen about 2pc more than that to urban authorities.”

He said rural councils remained worse off and said: “With so few discretionary services left [they] face deep cuts into their basic provision while their residents already pay higher council taxes than urban dwellers.

“Having recognised the strength of our case, we are naturally disappointed that the government has not made the additional funding a permanent feature of the system.”

Suffolk County Council received just over £250,000 and Cambridgeshire County Council a little over £31,000.

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