CCN Chairman’s Conference speech: Cllr Paul Carter warns against fragmenting public services

CCN News 2016 | 07 November 2016

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The County Councils Network (CCN) chairman has today warned the threat of undermining county governance could derail the devolution agenda and damage public services at a critical time of where demand is increasing.

Cllr Paul Carter told delegates at the CCN’s 2016 Conference of the challenges posed by unsuitable devolution deals and local government reorganisation, and said CCN is ‘totally opposed’ to the breakup of county boundaries and the fragmentation of services this will bring.

He said two independent studies that CCN commissioned and released last week from EY and Shared Intelligence (SI) on local government reorganisation, demonstrated the need to retain and build on county governance, with the strategic nature of county boundaries necessary to deliver the transformation of public services.

In contrast, breaking up those boundaries would fragment key frontline services, potentially worsening them at a time of rising demand, leaving residents with a postcode lottery for quality local services, and giving councils less savings to direct to the frontline.

He told delegates: “As our response to the reports highlighted, CCN remains neither for nor against reorganisation.

“We are happy to scale up and work jointly with neighbouring authorities where it is practical and sensible to do so, but we are totally opposed to the break-up of our county boundaries and the fragmentation of the complex and vital, value for money services this would bring.”

Cllr Carter emphasised the strategic nature of county authorities, with the evidence pointing to size and scale as necessary to deliver public service transformation, as well as being the areas most capable of helping the Government deliver its sizeable agenda, from housebuilding, to more effective and integrated health services, and to driving growth and productivity.

He added: “We have the leadership, size, scale, knowledge and experience to transform and improve public service in our area. Put simply, counties matter.”

In recent weeks, there has been widespread reports that county devolution deals are in danger of collapsing due to the Government’s requirement for a directly-elected mayor.

Cllr Carter said the ‘majority of members are opposed to be imposition of mayors, and called on the Government to trust the ‘strong leadership’ in county governance.

He said; “As the saying goes, ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’

“This is a defining period for counties – we have the opportunity to forge a new relationship with Government that trusts and empowers us to do more for residents.”

Notes to editor

• Founded in 1997, The County Councils Network represents 37 County Councils and Unitary authorities that serve county areas. CCN’s 37 member councils serve over 25 million people or 47% of the population, over 45 thousand square miles or 86% of England. CCN is a cross party organisation, expressing the views of county councils to the wider Local Government Association and to central government departments. For more information on the CCN, please visit;

• CCN’s response to the two independent studies on potential structural reform can be found here.

Paul Carter headshot

Cllr Paul Carter’s full CCN Conference speech:

Good morning and welcome to the CCN Annual Conference, once again in the wonderful “well led” county of Surrey.

Starting with a few thank-yous.

Firstly, a big thank you to all our sponsors at this year’s event.

Thanks to all of our speakers who I am sure you will agree make up a full and very comprehensive and interesting programme over the course of our conference.

And finally, thank you to our Members and officers who contribute so much in varied and different ways throughout the year, enabling the County Councils Network to be such a small, united but effective organisation.

With the support of our Member Councils, we have in recent years journeyed from an organisation that was once on the fringes of the local government debate, to one that is very much listened to, helping to shaping government policy.

For which we owe enormous thanks to our lean and effective team lead by Simon and supported so ably by James, Michael, Elizabeth, Victoria, Ian and Sarah.

Our Network is built on shared objectives the challenges we face, and mutual ambitions focused on common goals to modernise and improve the complex array of services that counties deliver and most importantly lead to improved outcomes for all our residents and businesses – and of course, doing so with a lot less money.

So, as we start our conference, it is important we reflect on some of our successes over the past twelve months, before focusing on the big challenges and opportunities ahead.

Starting with last year’s Autumn statement, we ran a successful campaign lobbying government on the need for the essential additional funding for social care against the significant rising demand and cost of delivery.

Similarly, following a worse than initial expected local government settlement, we successfully campaigned for transitional funding, resulting in an additional £292m of funding being found.

The settlement remains extremely challenging, but I think we agree, better than it could have been!

More on local government finance later.

In the last year, CCN can also claim success in campaigning against forced academisation, a prominent feature of write large the government whitepaper “Educational Excellence Everywhere”.

This was seriously unpopular with CCN members – unpopular with MPs of all political persuasions – and I am sure we very much welcome the Government recent announcement that the legislation will now be dropped.

We must not forget county authorities support the most significant proportion school children in this country.

We have a strong and proud track record in education.

We oversee an ever increasing number of good and outstanding schools, as well as effectively planning and providing new schools in the right place at the right time and at highly competitive costs.

Whilst on the important subject of education, only last week, the national media highlighted CCN’s campaign to reinstate the £600m of education support grant.

This is so vitally important to the school improvement agenda in our schools.

And so to the challenges and opportunities ahead.

The changing dynamics in Westminster present an opportunity for counties to reassess, and importantly, reassert our role in delivering the change agenda being considered by the Government.

This afternoon we will be welcoming the new Secretary of State, Sajid Javid to our conference for the first time.

We will give him a very warm welcome; we need him on our side! Our agenda is their agenda – we have common purpose, helping to:

• Increase housing delivery
• Provide infrastructure to match growth
• Improve health and social care service
• Support a growing economy, and more broadly;
• Drive public service reform in our counties

On housing, the Secretary of State has let it be known this is his top priority, and counties will contribute and support accelerated well-planned housing delivery to meet rising demand.

CCN has consistently argued for planning and infrastructure to be placed on a strategic footing in our areas.

Government have listened and responded to the evidence – we are engaging closely to shape legislation in the upcoming Housing White Paper.

Through CCN we will bring forward innovative and creative new ways to fund much needed infrastructure to support housing and economic growth, such as new schools, roads, public transport, and health facilitates.

In health and social care, much change is in the air.

We need to work closely with our health partners to deliver more efficient and effective utilisation of the NHS pound alongside social care that integrates and transforms delivery that leads to leads to improved health outcomes to all our residents.

STPs offer real opportunity.

However, NHS England and local government silos will have to be broken down if we are to succeed.

On education and skills, we can help redesign a 21st century system that responds to the local and changing needs of needs of employers, in both the private and public sector.

Opportunities in tune with the ambitions and aspirations of all our young people, we must create a system that empowers employers, removes barriers that delivers a well-trained and motivated workforce and truly supports the 45% of those not entering university.

The fact that 7% of the 16 to 18s are not in Not in Education, Training or Employment is unacceptable.

And on growth, CCN have worked tirelessly to highlight the significance of county economies.

The Industrial Strategy and the Government’s Economic Inclusion agenda pose new opportunities to push for empowered counties.

We will make the case for more placed-based investment.

This must recognise the significant underinvestment in county infrastructure and transport that has gone on for decades.

Concerns must be registered on the indicative settlement on the LEP Local Growth Fund 3 submissions.

And with business rate retention will come new responsibilities linked to incentivising growth.
These are exciting opportunities for government to devolve skills, economic growth, infrastructure delivery and housing powers to county authorities.

Counties have a proud record of innovation and modernisation.

And a track record of efficiency in recent years that is second to none in the public sector.

Building on our Business Plan, and with support of our members, CCN will undertake a number of important work streams aligned to the common agenda in the coming months, including a 21st century skills system, innovative ways to fund infrastructure and health and social care integration.

These will be proactive, presenting solutions to government.

We will of course achieve very little unless we have sufficient funding to survive and prosper.

Counties have the toughest challenge of all.

No more so is this true than in social care.

It is now clear that the pressures on social care are impossible to manage additional funding not further precepting powers, additional funding.

While additional funding for upper-tier councils is needed in the short term, reforms to business rates and delivering fairer funding must be one of our main objectives.

We must ensure that our rural areas are not left behind by a business rates system that unfairly rewards unrestrained growth in London and city areas.

Most fundamentally for all our county authorities, we will put forward the strongest case possible in the fair funding, needs-based review.

This review is long, long overdue and must be carried out swiftly, fairly and intelligently.

It needs to be sped-up and completed well in advance of the introduction of whole-scale commercial rates retention.

As Marcus Jones said at the Autumn APPG last week, the objective is “fair funding for everyone”.

Greg Clark was hoping that the LGA would be able to establish the principles of fair, needs-led funding for the baseline of all local authorities to be established, but I have my doubts.

Delivering fairer and sustainable funding is one of the essential and necessary foundations for the effective delivery of public services.

The second is intelligent devolution arrangements that builds on and empower county governance to deliver, better, more localised services for our residents.

Devolution, welcomed by all of us, has become bogged down in debates and conflicts over Governance.

Our appetite for devolution deals has not diminished.

However, we have consistently argued for a flexible approach to governance and the removal of the imposition of Elected Mayors.

The vast majority our members are understandably opposed to this requirement.

As the saying goes, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”.

The strategic leadership in our counties has never been so strong and effective.

In recent times, it isn’t just a government fixation with Mayors that has held back devolution in our areas – but a resurgence in the debate regarding local government reorganisation.

The threat of undermining county governance through unsuitable devolution deals, or indeed local government reorganisation, is therefore a challenge that potentially still remains.

This is why last week CCN published two independent studies on the implications of structural reform in counties.

These reports can do no more than provide evidence to the new Secretary of State.

When Eric Pickles was Secretary of State he famously said “I’ll have a pearl-handled revolver waiting in my drawer for the first civil servant who suggests another local government reorganisation.

Whether Sajid intends to follow Eric’s policy or Greg’s “anything goes” approach remains to be seen.

As our response to the reports highlighted, CCN remains neither for nor against structural reform.

Overall the studies demonstrate the need to retain and build on county governance.

I am sure we can all agree that historic county boundaries are sacrosanct.

We are happy to scale up and work jointly with neighbouring authorities where it is practical and sensible to do so.

But we remain totally opposed to the break-up of our county boundaries and the fragmentation of the complex and vital, value for money services we deliver.

I am sure that the independent reports will be subject of considerable debate during this conference and beyond.

We look forward to hearing from Darra Singh and Phil Swann shortly.

This is a defining period for counties – we have the opportunity to forge a new relationship with Government that trusts and empowers us to do more for residents.

We have the leadership, size, scale, knowledge and experience to transform and improve public service in our areas.

Put simply, counties matter!

Thank you, and enjoy the conference.