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Autumn Statement call to support rural communities

The Chancellor of the Exchequer will make his Autumn Statement on tax and spending to Parliament on Wednesday 22 November. With a general election expected around a year from now this is likely to be the last Autumn Statement of this Parliament; unless the election is held earlier it will be followed by a full budget in the spring.

Amid encouraging news on the fight against inflation the Countryside Alliance has identified five key priorities that we believe would make the greatest immediate difference for rural communities, helping address the rural premium they still face.

Fuel duty 

Countryside Alliance research, highlighted in a parliamentary report launched earlier this year, shows that rural households spend almost £800 a year more on fuel than people who live in urban areas, and spend up to 6 pence per litre more for petrol. The cost of petrol is a critical issue facing rural communities. 

In 2022 the fuel duty level was cut by 5 pence per litre, ostensibly for one year, but this was later extended until 2024. The Countryside Alliance is clear that the pressure on rural communities’ finances remains. Now is not the time to let the cut lapse, in effect raising fuel duty by 5 pence. We therefore ask that the Chancellor maintains the current level of fuel duty, with the 5 pence cut intact.

Domestic heating oil 

As longstanding campaigners in support of people living in homes without a connection to the gas grid, the Countryside Alliance welcomed the Prime Minister’s announcement in September that the mooted ban on like-for-like replacements of oil boilers would be put off until 2035, and homes that could not be reliably heated by other means will not be forced to switch at all. Concerns remain, however, about the affordability of heating oil. 

In recognition of the higher costs faced by those who rely on this fuel, we are calling on the Chancellor to use powers returned to the UK following our departure from the EU to reduce the VAT rate on domestic heating oil to zero. We would also like to see a cut in the VAT payable by rural businesses that use the fuel, which (above small quantities) is chargeable at the full rate of 20% since the reduced rate of 5% applies only to domestic properties. 

Rural broadband 

Last month the Government launched two consultations on improving access to broadband in rural areas. One considers changes to the universal service obligation; the other concerns proposals for improving access for properties classified as ‘very hard to reach’

The consultations set out clear ambitions for delivering the quality broadband infrastructure that we know is essential for rural businesses and homes in the modern day. We are therefore asking the Chancellor to include in the Autumn Statement the finance needed to achieve them. 

Electric vehicle infrastructure 

Despite the Prime Minister’s announcement in September that the ban on sales of new petrol and diesel cars and vans would be put off until 2035, the electrification of road transport remains a key element of the Government’s plans to achieve net zero carbon emissions. Achieving this has preconditions: there must be an adequate network of charging points including at people’s homes, and a robust enough electric grid infrastructure to support the additional demand, particularly at peak times such as when people have returned home from work. 

The Chancellor should therefore make clear what funding the Government is proposing to make available to fund charging points and the underlying electric grid to ensure that both networks can support the transition while still allowing people who rely on private road transport to use their vehicles as required.

Litter and fly tipping 

Excepting large-scale incidents, the investigation and prosecution of littering and fly tipping offences is the responsibility of local authorities. Aside from blighting the landscape and damaging the environment, littering and fly-tipping imposes significant costs on councils, who must clear up fly-tipped waste on public land they control, and landowners such as farmers who must bear those costs when it is dumped on their land. These crimes are penalised through fines, whose maximum levels were increased in July; the Government has also consulted on ringfencing the money raised through fines for councils’ waste enforcement and clean up activities. 

There is therefore an opportunity to provide councils with additional funding for the specific purpose of investigating and prosecuting these offences. This would act as seed money, stimulating more upfront investigatory activity that could result in higher, re-investable returns from fines, plus reduced clean up costs thanks to the enhanced deterrence from demonstrating a greater likelihood of offenders being caught. 

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