County areas are the backbone of the UK economy, delivering 39% – £600bn – of England’s GVA and almost half of England’s jobs. They contain over 50% of England’s manufacturing output, and mix traditional industries with high-tech science and technology sectors.
Within their areas, county councils and unitary councils are lynchpins of theirin driving local growth , whether it is through direct investment, their convening role or strategic leadership of place. They combine a deep knowledge of their communities, with the ability to bring together public and private sector partners to set out ambitious visions for their areas, whilst investing millions each year.
The economic challenge facing the country cannot be overstated: the immediate aftermath of the Coronavirus will require robust recovery strategies, but alongside this we need to begin to think about the economies of the future and how they will look. Looking at the 36 counties, County Councils Network research showed that over half of the total workforce those areas are in job sectors deemed ‘at risk’ of widespread closures whilst the number of people claiming unemployment benefits and on furlough has increased the sharpest in those areas over the past year.
The country’s economic recovery may be nationally devised, but it will be locally led. Differing areas have differing needs: what is a challenge in County Durham may not necessarily be an issue in Cornwall. Therefore, CCN has argued for a ‘place-based’ approach to recovery, built around the strength of county authorities who are able to combine the local with the ability to ‘zoom out’: and putting both of these into ambitious recovery plans. This forms the basis of the CCN’s Counties: Leading Recovery, Delivering Renewal campaign.
This lends itself strongly to the government’s ‘levelling-up’ agenda, which aims to tackle economic and social disparities across England. CCN has been clear: the forthcoming Levelling-Up White Paper must focus on all four corners of England, and not be seen through a simplistic and narrow ‘north-south’ divide.