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Last Updated: Tuesday, 31 May, 2005, 01:55 GMT 02:55 UK
Rural council taxes 'are unjust'
Rural bus
SPARSE is a coalition of England's 55 most rural local governments
The most rural communities in England have urged the government to end "injustice" in the council tax system.

A new rural manifesto, from a coalition of 55 local authorities, claims country dwellers have to pay more for fewer services under the current system.

The coalition wants the government to end what it deems to be an unfair bias towards people living in urban areas.

The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister said council tax was set by local authorities, not by central government.

The manifesto was put together by the Sparsity Partnership for Authorities Delivering Rural Services (Sparse), a cross-party coalition of England's 55 most rural local governments which published its first manifesto two years ago.

We need new thinking to help address the needs of rural communities
Graham Biggs
SPARSE

The coalition states that people living in areas represented by the coalition pay up to 3% more council tax than the average in England - despite figures suggesting that council spending is around 10% less.

The manifesto also draws attention to fears that extra revenue raised through 90% council tax on second homes is not being channelled into local community projects.

The coalition, which services more than 5.5m people across England, wants key workers in Sparse areas to have access to training, development and affordable accommodation.

Spending needs

The manifesto also says that mobile services - such as libraries, police and banks which provide vital service to rural areas, - should get fiscal relief, possibly through road tax exemptions.

It warns that pockets of poverty in country communities often go unnoticed because national deprivation indicators are urban biased.

Sparse chief officer Graham Biggs said: "We need new thinking to help address the needs of rural communities, if they are to avoid becoming depopulated or mere dormitories.

"We want ministers and opposition parties to take a serious look at how to make the funding formula fair to rural councils so it reflects spending needs away from the urban centres of population."

Grant distribution

Local councils raise extra money from their residents through council taxes which they set on an annual basis, although excessive council tax increases may be capped by central government.

Responding to the manifesto, a spokesman for the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister said council tax was set by local authorities.

"There is no excuse for excessive council tax increases in any area," he said.

"The government has shown it will act to limit council tax rises."

The spokesman said the grant distribution formula was specifically designed to calculate grants according to relative need - both in rural and urban areas.




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