I will not take any further interventions, as time is short.
Local government spending still accounts for a large proportion of central Government spending, and it is understandable that we have had to make savings and cuts while we have been dealing with the legacy of the huge and record deficit we inherited from the previous Labour Government. We have had to find those savings across government, including local government. That is the context in which we must see the current situation.
However, I welcome the Minister’s confirmation that a fair funding formula for rural councils, based on the cost of delivery and need, will be brought forward. My concern is about the timing of bringing the review forward. I remember standing on this very spot in last year’s debate, and at the last minute the then Secretary of State provided some transitional funding to ease the huge cuts that rural councils faced, to make sure that the funding gap between rural and urban councils was not further extended.
On that basis, I supported the Government position last year, with the promise that this would be looked at. It is disappointing that we are here again 12 months later and so little progress has been made in addressing the issue. I welcome the fact that some transitional funding is still available for this year, but that will run out next year and there will be no cushion to ease the impact on the rural councils and the widening of that gap.
We must urgently bring forward this review and address this issue. As I said to the Secretary of State in an intervention earlier, if we do not deal with it now, the unfairness and the lack of funding for rural councils will be baked into the system when we go to 100% retention of business rates. So it is important that the review is brought forward. We can no longer live with what we in Cornwall would call a “dreckly” approach. For the uneducated, that describes something that will happen at some undetermined point in the future. It is a bit like mañana, but not quite so urgent. It feels as though that is the approach that has been taken with the fair funding review, but we need to get on with it. We need to stop talking about it and actually deliver this for our rural councils as a matter of urgency.
I am happy to say that, based on the fact that last year’s funding agreement was a four-year agreement and the fact that the majority of councils have now set their council tax, I will support the motion and the Government’s position tonight. I will do so with a heavy heart, because I am disappointed at the lack of progress that has been made, but I take the Minister and the Secretary of State at their word when they say that these issues will be addressed. I will continue to make this case as strongly as I possibly can and to work with colleagues to ensure that the unfairness that has existed for far too long is addressed so that our rural councils will be much more fairly funded in the future.