Click HERE to read my latest column in the Wiltshire Gazette and Herald and Wiltshire Times.
In our area, we all highly prize Wiltshire’s historic market towns, picturesque villages and its beautiful rural setting.
However, the idyllic countryside and its villages have for too long been characterised as communities of great wealth and privilege by the Government. It is all too easy for technocrats within Whitehall to proclaim that when it comes to a lack of funding in some areas it is immaterial as ‘Wiltshire are rich, they can afford it.’
The way that councils are funded by central Government is wildly complicated. Only a relatively small proportion comes from local council tax. The vast majority comes from various forms of convoluted Government grants. For 13 years under a Labour government, the gap between what urban and rural areas received grew hugely with rural counties, like Wiltshire, missing out. The effects were exacerbated by the fact that services are far more expensive to deliver in rural areas compared to cities.
The previous Parliament reduced spending evenly across all councils. This, alongside the introduction of a grant to compensate rural areas for the higher costs of services, meant that the overall effect was to gradually reduce the funding gulf between rural and urban areas. However, the effect of the provisional settlement from the Government for the next four years will mean that Wiltshire, and other rural counties, are hit disproportionally hard when compared to urban ones. I have grave concerns that more pressure will come to find greater savings in health and social care, bus services, road repairs, schools and infrastructure in Wiltshire than in Swindon, Bristol and other urban areas.
The net result is that over a four-year period, there will be a 39.9 per cent reduction in the amount of money that Wiltshire receives from the Government for its services. This compares to an average cut of 19 per cent for the metropolitan authorities. Don’t get me wrong, it is absolutely vital to reduce Government spending – we are still spending almost £1billion each week on debt interest – but it is also essential that we do so fairly and not unfairly burden those communities just because they are perceived to be affluent. Why should someone living here on a low income be penalised for living in a ‘Shire’ county when compared to our cities where there is a naturally better public transport infrastructure and more accessible services?
The most important role I have as the MP for the Chippenham constituency is to speak up for my constituents. There needs to be an adjustment within the current budget so that counties like Wiltshire do not lose out. I have written to the Communities Secretary to inform him that, as it stands, I do not find the settlement acceptable and there needs to be a fairer way found to ensure that Wiltshire does not lose out.