RURAL communities in Somerset are on a “knife-edge” and could become abandoned settlements unless the Government stumps up more cash.

That is the view of Bridgwater’s MP Ian Liddell-Grainger, who is joining a group of 50 MPs who have condemned Government cuts to local authority funding.

The Rural Services Network is angry that Communities and Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles has cut funding for rural councils by 5.21%, while funding for urban councils has dropped by just 2.04%.

Mr Liddell-Grainger said: “Successive governments have consistently left rural areas short of cash - and the forthcoming settlement will simply accentuate the difference.

“The argument civil servants constantly advance is that in sparsely-populated areas there are fewer people requiring local authority services so therefore less funding is needed.

“The reality is that the cost per head of delivering those services is far higher in the countryside – and that absolutely must be taken into account.”

He added: “We cannot allow this to continue. Unless we can force a fundamental shift in policy we are going to be looking at the same problems of rural depopulation as they have experienced in parts of France where entire villages have been abandoned.

“At some point, what with the combination of low incomes, the rural premium adding to the cost of everything and either poor local authority services or even a total lack of them, families are going to be driven out of the countryside and into the towns. The only people who will be able to live in the country will be the extremely wealthy.”

Fellow Conservative MP Graham Stuart, who chairs the Rural Fair Share Campaign, added: "The rural voice has been silent for too long."

Mr Pickles, however, says the settlement is fair, because councils will keep at least 25% of all business rates they collect, meaning their overall spending power will reduce by just 1.7% next year, and by just 1% for rural councils.