The Rural Fair Share Campaign is a grouping of largely Liberal Democrat and Conservative MPs campaigning for fair Council funding in rural areas. They have been very vocal in recent months and I have been urging Somerset County Council to support this and other similar campaigns. So it was with some shock last week that I noted just how many of the campaign’s Patron MPs trooped into the division lobby in favour of the Government’s latest Local Government Finance Settlement, the very tool that short-changes rural councils. Even Rural Fair Share luminaries such as Group Secretary Graham Stuart and Devon MP Neil Parish voted through the Bill despite their threats to ‘wheel out the yeomanry’ to defeat another unfair settlement for rural councils. It was a pathetic sight. Some, mostly LibDem, MPs stuck to their guns and voted against, including Sir Nick Harvey and Andrew George. Other MPs, including Somerset’s Tessa Munt and Jeremy Browne voted for the Bill that forces cuts on Somerset County Council, despite their recent criticism in the Commons, of Somerset County Council’s planned cuts to Children’s Centres. They don’t seem to get that such cuts are the inevitable consequence of their own actions. In fact, as far as I can see, not a single Somerset MP voted against the Local Government Finance Settlement.
On the same day that he voted in favour of the bill that leaves his own County Council with a massive budget shortfall, I received a letter from Taunton Deane MP Jeremy Browne stating “I have taken an active interest in the matter of government funding for rural areas and made representations on this subject. I would be happy to be a Patron of the (Rural Fair Share) campaign too.” It’s all talk, isn’t it? It appears that Jeremy’s representations, if indeed they exist, are about as effective as those of the Conservative administration at Somerset County Council. When are these people going to get a spine and stick up for the people who voted for them rather than offering unwavering support to their parties?