Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Fighting Back for the Farmers; North East MPs Are Fighting for a Fairer Deal for the Region's Rural Areas. JONATHAN WALKER Explores the Debate

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Fighting Back for the Farmers; North East MPs Are Fighting for a Fairer Deal for the Region's Rural Areas. JONATHAN WALKER Explores the Debate

Article excerpt


THE countryside is fighting back. MPs representing rural constituencies have demanded a better deal from the Government.

Some of their colleagues representing major towns and cities don't like it - but they may have a point.

The plight of the countryside has been raised by 119 MPs, who presented petitions to the House of Commons complaining that the way the Government distributes money is "unfair to rural communities".

Petitions to Parliament are recorded in Hansard and a copy is sent to the relevant Government department.

But if truth be told, individual petitions are unlikely to have much effect.

What's different this time, however, is the sheer number of them, all raising the same issue and demanding action.

MPs who presented petitions to the House - they are handed to a Commons clerk and placed in a green bag hanging behind the Speaker's chair in a short formal ceremony - include Alan Beith, Liberal Democrat MP for Berwick-upon-Tweed in Northumberland. And they also include Roberta Blackman-Woods, Labour MP for the City of Durham. She explained to fellow MPs: "Although my constituency is the City of Durham, it has a large rural area and, critically, is part of Durham County Council, a large rural authority that wants its rural fair share."

The MPs are backing a campaign called Rural Fair Share, which aims to highlight three key facts. First, people in rural residents earn less on average than people in cities.

Second, the council tax they pay is on average PS76 a head higher.

And third, urban areas receive 50% more funding per head - despite the obvious higher cost of delivering many services in a rural area Now, MPs in the big cities might have a few things to say about that. For a start, while average wages might be higher, cities also tend to have pockets of deprivation and crushing poverty that you don't find in the shires.

But there's no doubt that money is shared unequally, rightly or wrongly.

A report by House of Commons researchers found that Treasury funding for local authorities for 2013-14 came to PS1,595 per household in Newcastle, PS1,382 per household in Gateshead, PS1,116 per household in North Tyneside, PS1,546 per household in South Tyneside and PS1,503 per household in Sunderland. But in Northumberland it was PS1,023 per head, significantly lower. When you look at council tax rates, the picture is reversed. Average council tax bills per household for 2013- 14, including precepts, are PS840 in Gateshead, PS817 in Newcastle, PS857 in North Tyneside, PS738 in South Tyneside and PS714 in Sunderland, according to figures published by the Department for Communities and Local Government.

But in Northumberland , they are PS1,108 per household.

Earlier this year, a Committee of MPs looked at the way rural areas were funded - and concluded they were being treated unfairly.

A report by the Commons Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee concluded: ""Rural communities pay higher council tax bills per dwelling, receive less government grants and have access to fewer public services than their urban counterparts.

"The Government needs to recognise that the current system of calculating the local government finance settlement is unfair to rural areas in comparison with their urban counterparts and take action to reduce the disparity. …

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