East Devon’s MP: ‘Funding has become town vs country saga’

Hugo Swire

Hugo Swire - Credit: Archant

Sir Hugo Swire’s Sidmouth Herald column on why his party loyalty is being tested

I’m not very rebellious by nature and I don’t think I have ever defied the party whip, but my loyalty to party and my loyalty to constituency is being severely tested on funding issues surrounding education, social care and councils in rural areas like ours.

The reality is that we need more money when there is none and, although I appreciate ministers are walking a tightrope trying to deliver solutions, fairness has to come into the equation.

The national funding formula for schools is designed to level a desperately uneven funding map for schools and it is commendable that this Government is at last attempting to do this.

The idea behind it was to partly sort out wage differentials to take account of living costs, but also to help special requirements, such as the need to teach pupils English in mainly urban local authorities with high immigrant populations.

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Thus, the school funding per pupil in parts of London is £8,500, compared with £4,346 in Devon. The new formula was supposed to bring greater transparency to a muddled system and to make it fairer.

But this has developed into a saga about town versus country. Urban areas have been prioritised for as long as I can remember, most notably during the 13 years New Labour was in power, probably because that was where its heartlands were, but the trend continued during the previous Coalition Government, of which I was a part.

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Although, in all fairness, there was some re-balancing for rural schools, it was not enough. If the new funding formula goes ahead for schools, we would see 15 East Devon schools gaining funding, but 20 losing out, not very fair when we have historically been underfunded as a county.

In fiscal terms, it would mean Devon County Council’s overall schools funding budget reduced in the region of £500,000 for the first year.

Theresa May is very keen on appealing directly to Labour voters ill-served by Corbyn’s leadership and, judging by the polls, she is making good headway there.

But the cost will be great if, in the meantime, our heartlands, the ones that got this Government elected, are sacrificed on that altar.

Politicians can no longer afford to take rural Britain for granted.

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