HC Deb 23 June 1982 vol 26 c287
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. King

Such matters are under discussion in the grants working groups. I shall be interested in the outcome of those discussions. It would be unwise to go further than that now, although we are aware of the problems to which my hon. Friend has referred.

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.

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