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Delivering equitable funding for rural areas is critical to creating a fairer, stronger Britain

Delivering equitable funding for rural areas is critical to creating a fairer, stronger Britain

Credit: RSN

Rural Services Network

4 min read Partner content

Writing together, Rural Services Network, CPRE, English Rural Housing Association and Britain’s Leading Edge call for reform of government funding, so that it adequately serves rural communities.

Rolling hills, green pastures and idyllic landscapes. That is often the image conjured when we discuss England’s rural areas.  

While these beautiful places do undoubtedly exist, it is also important to stress the reality of life in our green and pleasant land.  

For every person in a rural area without a major city, £301 is allocated from government capital funding compared with £434 in urban areas – a discrepancy of 44%.  

These lower levels of public funding on capital schemes are compounded by higher annual costs of service provision and a greater need for such services.  

When people live further apart it costs more to provide the general services, healthcare, education and transport that communities rely on.  

Rural areas, for example, need double the number of firefighters per incident compared with towns and cities across the year, to ensure complete coverage of their areas.  

We recognise that we are, dare we say it, living in unprecedented times.  

The Government is facing a challenge comparable to the post-war period and the public purse is under immense pressure. So, we are not asking for more money. Rural communities simply want a fairer share of the pot.  

This week’s Budget made clear that in our national recovery, the Government remains committed to its levelling up agenda. But we believe the issue of unfairness extends beyond individual government commitments; it’s built into the process.  

The Green Book process – guidance issued by HM Treasury covering policy, taxation and funding options – is designed to maximise the delivery of economic, social and environmental returns for UK society.  

But new research from Pragmatix Advisory, commissioned by the Rural Services Network, Britain’s Leading Edge, CPRE, the countryside charity, and English Rural Housing Association, sets out the extent to which this mechanism does not adequately serve rural communities.  

Developing the system in to one that includes ‘sparsity-normalised costs’ would ensure rural communities have an equal chance of securing funds for projects on a like-for-like basis with towns and cities.

From the outset, the way in which funding allocations are calculated does not take into account some of the unique characteristics of rural areas, especially sparsity, which leave communities and service providers constantly battling against the triple whammy of higher costs, lower funding and greater need.  

The 2020 Green Book Review was a chance to right these wrongs, but it was a missed opportunity. To put it simply, the Green Book isn’t so green.  

Developing the system in to one that includes ‘sparsity-normalised costs’ would ensure rural communities have an equal chance of securing funds for projects on a like-for-like basis with towns and cities.  

Like everything, the Green Book process sits within the wider government agenda.  

Boris Johnson’s promise to ‘level up’ the country and build back better might well be the adage for which his Government is best remembered. But his focus, and the appraisals in the Green Book, concentrate on levelling up between regions in the UK.  

If we are to truly level up as a country, equal consideration should also be given to levelling up within regions, in other words, ensuring greater parity between rural and urban areas.  

To achieve this, the framework for allocating funds should examine data at a more granular level.  

At present, data is published at the level of the nine English regions; this hides disparities and makes it impossible to track whether growth-enhancing spending is reaching the places that most need levelling up. Without seeing the information on which decisions are made as to which areas will get support, it is impossible to see if there has been any rural proofing.

The pandemic’s impact over the last year cannot be overstated.  

Our work, social and family time has been affected beyond recognition. But one unexpected outcome has been to shine a light on the latent inequalities in the UK. 

It is, we believe, fair to say that the public has come together in a kind of mutual understanding that there has to be some degree of change and greater fairness in the way in which society is organised.  

Much time and effort is now being dedicated to this new Britain, and amending the Green Book process would certainly further this aim. 

As we move forward through 2021 and beyond, with the shared purpose of reducing inequality and disadvantages of all kinds and ‘Building Back Better’, we believe that delivering equitable funding for those in rural areas at the next multi-year spending review is critical to creating a fairer, stronger Britain.  

We are calling for the creation of a cross-government taskforce led by a cabinet minister to drive delivery of the report’s recommendations ensure a meaningful programme of change that levels up rural economies and unleashes their contribution to a carbon net zero economy for the country as a whole. 

Click here to read the full report. 

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