REPRESENTATIVES of people in north Wiltshire have hit out at the Government, accusing it of ‘punishing’ the county’s residents for the services they pay for.

According to research conducted by the County Councils Network (CCN), people in rural counties such as Wiltshire are receiving almost 50 per cent less funding for their public services compared with their neighbours in England’s largest cities.

In Wiltshire, the average government funding per person for services such as buses, pothole repairs, bin collections and adult and children’s social services is just £555, compared with nearly £1,200 per person in central London.

Malmesbury’s county councillor, Gavin Grant, is asking why the county is getting such a raw deal and has called on the Government to redress the balance, saying residents in the town are ‘being punished’.

“We get just £555 per person for much-needed public services, less than half that of parts of London,” he said.

“Next year our county has a £25 million ‘black hole’ funding crisis so more services will be cut, vital jobs lost and another year of pay rises below price rises for the people that are providing those services in the NHS, schools, emergency services and social care.

"Wiltshire residents are being punished by this government, this must change.”

Last month, leaders of England’s largest rural councils gathered at the annual conference of the CCN, which represents 26 million people across all 27 county councils and 10 unitary authorities in England.

They demanded a new deal for rural residents and threatened to cut frontline public services, saying there is a £2.54 billion ‘funding black hole’ over the next four years.

Councillor Paul Carter, chairman of the CCN, told delegates at the meeting: “Our services are threatened and under pressure like never before.

“Unless these inequalities are addressed, many of the highly valued services to our public will diminish or disappear.”

Philip Whitehead, Wiltshire Council cabinet member for finance, demanded more for Wiltshire: “We work hard to secure the best possible deal for our residents, however because we are a rural county with low unemployment and fewer areas of deprivation, we receive less funding from central government.

“Through constantly innovating Wiltshire Council continues to perform extremely highly, our schools are excellent, we have kept all of our libraries open, continued to roll out a community hub programme and invested more in a sustained roads maintenance programme than ever before.

“We believe Wiltshire would benefit from economic independence by getting a defined percentage of business rates collected in the county.

"Also, if all authorities were single tier like Wiltshire Council, it is estimated £31 billion could be saved over five years – additional funding which could then be distributed between all local authorities.”

A spokesman for the Department for Communities and Local Government said: “We’ve been clear that as part of our forthcoming Fair Funding Review we want to make sure councils, including those serving rural communities that face particular challenges, are funded taking into account their local needs and circumstances.

“We’ll be setting out more details on this review in due course.”