Great Britain

County Durham missing out on ‘millions’ in rural cash

COUNTY Durham could be missing out on millions of pounds set aside to help fund some of the most rural parts of the country.

Ministers have set aside more than £80 million to be shared among the most sparsely populated areas of England.

But once again County Durham is set to receive nothing under the scheme, despite being home to places such as Weardale and Teesdale, which have some of the lowest population densities of anywhere in the UK.

“We don’t receive any rural services grant, despite being a rural county,” said John Hewitt, the Durham County Council’s corporate director of resources.

“There is a pot of money fur rurality and we don’t receive any of that, but we could receive millions.

“It’s difficult to say [how much Durham misses out on], but it should be low millions, about £2 to £5 million – that’s not a scientific measure, but it would help.”

Mr Hewitt added the local authority was ‘lobbying hard’ to get more cash through the government’s long-awaited Fair Funding Review, but other routes to change the current situation, such as mounting a legal challenge, would be ‘difficult as a council to do it on your own’.

Mr Hewitt was speaking ahead of last week’s meeting of the council’s ruling cabinet to agree spending plans for the next financial year (2020/21).

Durham was not allocated anything from the Government’s Rural Services Delivery Grant (RSDG), which is supposed to recognise the extra costs of providing services to rural areas.

But £18 million, equivalent to more than a fifth of the RSDG’s total budget, has been allocated to authorities bordering the county.

Weardale is one of the most sparsely populated areas of England, with about 8,300 people spread across more than 150 square miles, while 25,000 people live in Teesdale’s 322 square miles.

A spokesman for the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) said: “We’re committed to levelling up across the country with councils in England having access to £49.2 billion next year – the biggest annual real-terms increase in spending power in a decade.

“Durham County Council will have access to £30.1m more in funding next year to deliver services for residents.

“The funding plans provide certainty for councils who are responsible for delivering the services their communities need and will protect residents from excessive council tax increases.”