Neil Parish: Rural funding gap must be closed
LAST week was certainly one of the busier ones I have had in Parliament. I started the week by leading a debate on the Local Government Funding Settlement for 2013-14 which will reduce central government support to councils while doing nothing to address the longstanding inequality of funding between rural and urban councils.
The purpose of the debate was to call on the Government to reduce the urban funding advantage over rural areas incrementally year-on-year to no more than 40 per cent by 2020, revise the proposed settlement and make good on the long-standing promise to correct this historic imbalance and give rural local authorities their fair share of central government funding in line with the summer consultation.
Urban councils already receive 50 per cent more per head than their poor country cousins in rural areas, despite the fact that many public services are more expensive to deliver in sparsely populated rural areas.
Public transport adds to the challenge for local authorities in rural areas with large networks to maintain. Devon has the largest single road network in England at nearly 8,000 miles.
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In 2010 Devon County Council had to repair around 200,000 pot holes because of severe winter weather, and since July 2012 Devon has suffered significant flooding, which has done untold damage to road and rail networks.
Devon County Council estimates that it needs to spend £62m a year over the next 10 years to maintain the current condition of the highway at pre-2012 standards. However, the Government capital allocations for Devon for 2013-14 and 2014-15 are only £39.4m and £34.6m respectively.
The summer consultation showed rural areas gaining more than £30m. But these gains will be lost because of the chosen damping mechanism which will actually increase the funding gap between urban and rural areas.
On February 4 the Government committed £8.5m in additional funding in 2013 to 2014 as a separate new transitional grant to help authorities secure efficiencies in services for sparsely populated areas.
I welcome this announcement and I believe it reflects the Government's desire to offer a fair settlement to rural areas.
However, this one-off addition to this year's settlement does not address the fundamental and underlying problems and still means that the total grant for rural authorities has fallen by about two per cent more than that to urban areas.
I HAVE been examining the horse meat scandal on the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee. We as a committee have published a report on Contamination of Beef Products. It concludes that current arrangements for testing and control across the European food industry have failed UK consumers.
It recommends that the Food Standards Agency (FSA) be given the statutory powers to require producers to undertake testing, taking into account the level of risk; all testing results must be reported to the FSA whether they are mandated by the FSA or carried out independently; and a broader range of testing to provide greater assurance to consumers.
Following the Environment Secretary's statement on horse meat and food fraud I called on the minister to urge people to eat meat that is guaranteed by the red tractor or other farm assurance schemes. Buying British is the best way of knowing where your food has come from.