District councillor and town councillor for South Molton David Worden is often described as a rural champion. Here he looks at how people in rural areas always seem to come off second best in terms of Government funding.
IN many ways we are fortunate to live in northern Devon.
We are surrounded by beautiful countryside and coast and can boast of Exmoor, towering cliffs, golden sandy beaches and rolling green countryside.
It is in general a peaceful area with a low crime rate. Contrast this with those currently living in Syria, Iraq or Afghanistan and it puts everything into perspective. Welcome to paradise you might say, but unfortunately there are some disadvantages of living in our area. Wages are low and the cost of living is high. Communication is difficult, broadband and mobile reception poor and transport is a major issue for those living in the countryside.
Even if you have a car the fuel prices are high and for many, rural poverty is a reality.
Successive governments have failed to take action to treat people like us who live in northern Devon fairly. They have appeared to believe that rural dwellers are all relatively well off and don't need financing as much as city dwellers.
Whether we look at education, the NHS, police or the local government settlements we always seem to come off second best.
Why should Devon schools get thousands of pounds less per school than those in cities?
You may think I am exaggerating, but consider this, for this financial year a secondary school of 1,000 students in Devon gets £393,780 less than the national average – and this goes on year after year.
What does it mean? Fewer teachers, less support staff and fewer resources. In the primary sector the situation is even worse. For each child, Devon gets £619.42 less than the national average.
For a primary school of 100 students this is £61,942 per year. How is this fair to our children and schools?
As Sir Nick Harvey said in a passionate speech in the House of Commons on Thursday, October 10: "Why is it that the people who earn the least in the country, pay the highest council tax, get the least support from the Government and get the thinnest and most hopeless level of public services back. It just is not right."
Not only is it not right, it is blatantly unfair. Urban areas are getting 50 per cent more grant from the local government settlement than rural areas like North Devon and Torridge.
As a result of a system known as dampening there is a penalty for living in predominantly rural areas. The formula grant for this financial year has given on average a total of £390.80 per head of population to the local government authorities serving urban areas.
Those living in predominantly rural areas receive an average of £256.86 per person. That is an extra £133.96 for cities per head where the cost of providing services such as maintaining roads or collecting waste is obviously much less.
In order to try and provide a decent service the council tax in rural areas has had to be much higher than that of urban areas.
This year the average council tax in cities works out at £314.06 per person whereas in predominantly rural areas it is £400.65 – a difference of more than £86. It's a triple whammy – we get lower wages, pay more and get less in return.
This means that the cuts as a result of austerity measures are hitting us disproportionally hard. In 2010 North Devon received £15.5 million in the local government settlement; in 2015 this will be reduced to £10 million.
An equivalent authority in an urban area would have received in the region of £23 million in 2010 and would have only been reduced to about £15.5 million in 2015 if they had a similar reduction to that of North Devon.
Basically they would be only reduced to the high point rural areas received in 2010. It is no wonder front line services are under such threat in our area and it is just not right.
I would like to say a big thank you to the nearly 2,000 residents of the North Devon constituency who recently signed the rural fair share petition and to those who did the same in the Torridge and West Devon constituency.
This asked the Government to gradually narrow the gap between what urban and rural councils are receiving by two per cent a year so by 2020 it would be down to 40 per cent. That would be a start but personally I believe that the difference should be eliminated altogether and the sooner the better.