We have confirmed the increase in the sparsity weighting and top-ups that we proposed at consultation. Further, we are providing an £8.5 million grant to support the delivery to sparsely populated areas of efficiencies in services.
May I welcome my hon. Friend’s recognition of the fact that the provision of services in rural communities such as Maldon district where populations are sparsely distributed often costs more, but does he accept the disappointment that the local government finance settlement appears to do little to reduce the rural penalty? In fact, it entrenches it for forthcoming years.
We recognise the concerns of rural areas such as Maldon and similar areas where the costs that sparsity can bring are clear. The £8.5 million that we have announced in the statement today will go to 95 local authorities, all of which are rural. However, I would point out that in meetings that my officials and I have had with people from rural networks we have confirmed that the gap is narrowing thanks to changes that we made in the settlement. It is becoming smaller than it ever was under the previous Government, who put the finances in a situation that was detrimental to rural areas across the country.
Those newly announced funds are certainly welcome. Is the Minister aware that in his Department’s own analysis shire districts such as Watford borough council count as rural while unitaries, including Wiltshire council, are lumped in the urban category? Given that, how can he be sure of the boast that the proposed settlement is fair to urban and rural alike?