§ 7. Mr. Bulmer
asked the Secretary of State for the Environment whether he is satisfied that the present method of calculating the rate support grant gives sufficient weight to the problems of rural depopulation.
§ Mr. King
The Association of County Councils has made proposals for increasing the recognition given to the cost of providing services in areas of sparse population in the 1983–84 rate support grant settlement. These proposals are currently under discussion. I shall be reviewing the position on this during the summer.
§ Mr. Bulmer
Will my hon. Friend consider extending the sparsity factor beyond education to other essential services? Will he relate it to the local community and not to the county as a whole, which penalises counties, such as Hereford and Worcester, which have declining rural populations offset by growth points such as Redditch new town?
§ Mr. Marks
Is giving more money to the county councils the answer to the problem, since many county council members are farmers and landowners who are causing the depopulation? Will the Minister consider the suggestion that the Government should do for rural problems in specific grants what they have been doing for the inner cities?
§ Mr. King
We shall examine the problem in the light of the RSG settlement. There has been a sparsity factor, as we recognised in the previous needs assessment. That is a matter to be examined. There is something on which to spend the money, in the sense that there are higher costs for services provided by councils, such as school transport, when much greater distances might have to be covered than in the inner urban areas. That is an illustration of how higher costs may fall on a rural and more depopulated area.