England's most rural communities are calling on the Government to end "injustice" in the council tax system.
A coalition of more than 50 local authorities makes the demand in a new rural manifesto published today.
It says the current system penalises country areas by making residents pay more for fewer services.
The coalition wants Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott to recognise the extra costs of providing public services for rural communities.
People living in areas represented by the coalition pay up to three per cent more council tax than the average in England even though council spending is around ten per cent less, the manifesto says.
Council tax levels are higher in most rural parts of the country than in the rest of England, according to the Sparsity Partnership for Authorities Delivering Rural Services (SPARSE). The manifesto also calls for more affordable housing and an end to right-to-buy in areas where there is pressure on social housing.
It highlights concerns that extra revenue raised through 90 per cent council tax on second homes is not being channelled into local community projects. Key workers in SPARSE areas should have access to training, development and affordable accommodation, the manifesto says. The coalition wants mobile services such as libraries, police and banks which provide a vital service to rural areas should get fiscal relief, possibly through road tax exemptions.
And it warns that pockets of poverty in country communities often go unnoticed because national deprivation indicators are urban biased.
SPARSE chief officer Graham Biggs said the local government funding formula for England failed to address the extra costs of providing services to rural communities.
"We need new thinking to help address the needs of rural communities, if they are to avoid becoming depopulated or mere dormitories," he said.
Responding to the manifesto, a spokesman for the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister said council tax was set by local authorities not by central Government.