Rural groups warn ‘don’t leave countryside behind’
Ahead of next month’s spring budget, CPRE is joining forces with rural campaigners, councils and social housing providers to urge the chancellor to deliver fairer funding for the countryside.
Our new research report, jointly commissioned with the Rural Services Network, Britain’s Leading Edge and English Rural, shows how rural communities are being left behind when it comes to government funding – facing a triple threat of higher costs, greater need and lower funding than many other areas in the country.
The report argues that inadequate investment in essential public services is deepening rural disadvantage at the worst possible time – as our villages look to recover from the devastating toll of the pandemic.
But the countryside was struggling even before coronavirus took hold, notes CPRE chief executive Crispin Truman: ‘Recent decades demonstrate the impacts of underfunding: little to no reliable rural public transport, poor internet connectivity and a rural housing crisis that is raging through our countryside.’
And yet, there is scope for real positivity about the potential of rural areas, after a crisis that has shown the possibilities of remote working and made millions of us appreciate the health and wellbeing benefits of the countryside. As Crispin argues, ‘with more people than ever before looking to our wonderful countryside as a place to live, raise families and visit, it is crucial the government rebalances [urban and rural investment] without delay.’
Per person, government capital spending is 44% higher in towns and cities than for the rural areas which, combined, are home to more people than Greater London. It’s no wonder that these folk are feeling forgotten, and desperate for a fairer share of the pot.
The Conservative election manifesto proudly stated that ‘Boris Johnson has set out an agenda for levelling up every part of the UK’. But it is clear that ‘levelling up’ should not just address inequalities between regions, but within regions – or cities across England will continue to leave their rural hinterlands behind.
Rural minister Lord Gardiner seemed to recognise this, in his November statement that the government’s ‘vision remains that rural communities should prosper, benefiting from the full range of government policies designed to level up opportunity and take the country forward’.
But rural communities remain poorly served by government’s mechanisms for allocating public funds – known as the ‘green book’ process. For instance, towns and cities benefit from 36% more affordable homes per 100,000 people than rural areas.
A golden opportunity
A more strategic approach must rebalance the way the government funds affordable housing, public transport and essential services. Furthermore, it should recognise that the countryside should be at the heart of a green economy built around sustainable food production, nature restoration, carbon-saving staycations and a new generation of rural home-workers.
Together with our partners, we’re calling on the government to make sure tackling rural disadvantage is a priority within its decision-making – with all growth investment open to public scrutiny at local authority level.
To ensure this happens, we want a cabinet minister to lead a cross-government taskforce with the power to ‘rural proof’ budgets, spending reviews and policies. Only then will the countryside become synonymous with thriving local communities that can play a full role in our national recovery from coronavirus, and our progress towards a carbon zero economy.
‘Levelling up against rampant rural disadvantage and unfair funding allocation is a defining challenge of our time,’ concludes Crispin. ‘The chancellor has a golden opportunity in the upcoming budget to reverse this historic underfunding of our countryside communities. If the government is serious about its levelling up agenda, we must see a significant rise in investment targeted at rural areas to ensure that people can thrive wherever they live: in countryside or city.’
Find out more about the green book