NORTH Devon MP Nick Harvey has voted against the Government in protest at a shortfall in funding for rural councils.
Mr Harvey was one of four Westcountry Liberal Democrats who rebelled in yesterday’s vote on the financial settlement for local government from April.
The others included Andrew George, MP for St Ives, Stephen Gilbert, MP for St Austell and Newquay and Adrian Sanders, MP for Torbay.
It follows their involvement in the Rural Fair Share campaign, which argues urban councils receive 50% more funding per head than rural authorities, but not all have expressed their disquiet through the voting lobby.
Ministers have attempted to avert a shires rebellion by pledging an extra £9.5 million to be shared among rural authorities. And they have now added a further £2 million to sugar the pill.
However, Mr Harvey told the Commons that the additional funding would do little to close the funding gap – with Devon County Council now consulting about a programme of cuts that will end all its non-statutory obligations.
He said: "This will cause absolute fury on the part of voters. I do not think that it is acceptable.
"We have people moving into our area who are aghast at the low level of public services that they find in comparison with other parts of the country that they have come from. It cannot go on like this."
He said later: "The Government have acknowledged there is a problem, and have found £11.5 million to redress it, which equates to just over a pound per head. This simply isn't enough.
"At this rate it will take us 145 years to right the gap in terms of the Government grant – how can this situation be justified?
"For these very reasons, a number of my rural Lib Dem colleagues and I voted against the Government's local government finance plan for the coming year."
Other MPs who have voiced concerns at the rural shortfall voted with the Government.
In response, Local Government Minister Stephen Williams said: "We have recognised that services are sometimes more difficult and expensive to deliver in rural areas.
"I certainly recognise that poverty is found in all parts of the country. It is not necessarily concentrated only in city centre constituencies.
"That is why we have already set aside £9.5 million – £1 million more than last year – to help the authorities in the most sparsely populated rural areas.
"I thank Sir Nick Harvey for saying that we ought to go a little further. In fact, today we have announced a significant amount of extra money: £2 million."
The settlement was approved by 276 votes to 185.