Warning that families 'will abandon the countryside'
The Government has accepted rural councils are "under-funded" amid claims by a Westcountry MP parts of the countryside could be "abandoned".
The prospect of reform, likely to benefit the South West countryside, emerged after Conservative MP Ian Liddell-Grainger raised fears of "rural depopulation" similar to France.
Mr Liddell-Grainger, whose Bridgwater and West Somerset constituency covers most of Exmoor National Park, raised the problem in the House of Commons yesterday after a cross-party group of MPs called on the government to reconsider the impact its recent funding settlement.
They argue urban councils already receive 50% more per head than rural areas despite evidence that many services are more expensive to deliver in sparsely populated areas.
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During Business of the House Questions, Mr Liddell-Grainger said: "The local government settlement has just been announced.
"Before next year's settlement, may we have a debate to discuss the difference between urban money and rural money?
"That still presents a problem, and now is the time to discuss it so that we can get it right for next year."
In response, Andrew Lansley, Common leader, said: "That is a matter of concern to many MPs, including at the Department for Communities and Local Government.
"Ministers agree that the evidence shows that rural areas are comparatively underfunded, and that a correction should be applied so that there is proper recognition of the additional costs of delivering services in rural areas.
"I will not elaborate on the details of those adjustments, although I could do so. Although we will want to have transitional stability in local government, the Government recognise that such costs need to be understood and reflected in the formula."
Early estimates suggested £80 million of cuts would need to be found across Devon and Cornwall's four upper-tier councils over the next two years alone, though some suggest this is an underestimate.
Before his Commons intervention, Mr Ian Liddell-Grainger said: "Successive governments have consistently left rural areas short of cash – and the forthcoming settlement will simply accentuate the difference.
"The argument civil servants constantly advance is that in sparsely-populated areas there are fewer people requiring local authority services so therefore less funding is needed. The reality is that the cost per head of delivering those services is far higher in the countryside – and that absolutely must be taken into account.
"We cannot allow this to continue. Unless we can force a fundamental shift in policy we are going to be looking at the same problems of rural depopulation as they have experienced in parts of France where entire villages have been abandoned."
He went on that families will be "driven out of the countryside and into the towns" thanks to a combination of low incomes, a rural "premium" and "poor local authority services", adding: "The only people who will be able to live in the country will be the extremely wealthy."
The Department for Communities and Local Government was last night unable to provide details about the changes.