CCN Conference 2021: Government urged to show ‘highest level of ambition’ for devolution in counties

CCN Latest News, CCN News 2021 | 22 November 2021

The County Councils Network (CCN) will today urge the government to show the ‘highest level of ambition’ for devolution and levelling up in county and rural areas – and for ‘no let-up’ once the first tranche of deals are agreed.

It expected that a small number devolution deals could be announced alongside the Levelling Up White Paper, due later this year. Today at the CCN Annual Conference 2021 the organisation’s chairman Cllr Tim Oliver will say that the government must not stop there and go further once the first deals are agreed.

Cllr Oliver will say it is imperative that more deals are agreed in the next 12 months, with substantive powers and funding made available directly to county local authorities. He will warn that failure to do so could risk leaving large parts of the country behind in the levelling up agenda

Cllr Oliver’s speech comes ahead of the launch of a new report by Grant Thornton UK LLP, which argues that county authorities should have parity with the funding and powers of existing devolution deals agreed with the major cities. The independent assessment concludes that mayoral combined authorities are not the most suitable model for county deals.

Download the report County Deals: Options for Governance, Powers, and Funding here.

The analysis shows that if devolved investment funds on the same per person scale as those granted to regional mayors in the cities are made available to county devolution deals, individual areas could receive up to £21m in new money per year.

Today at the CCN Annual Conference 2021 the new Levelling-Up Secretary Michael Gove MP will be speaking to delegates in the evening.

Mr Gove has not confirmed when the next round of negotiations will start after the first deals are announced or whether newly elected mayors will be a condition to unlock the most powers.

But Cllr Oliver will say ‘time is of the essence’ so county authorities have as many levers and funds as possible to help with the economic recovery in their areas. He will also say powers should be devolved directly to county leaders rather than new regional mayors.

Just three county areas in England currently have a devolution deal with the government focusing on cities and urban areas, but the Prime Minister signalled this would change in his speech on levelling up in July.

Cllr Oliver, who is giving his first major speech since becoming chairman of CCN in July, will tell over 200 delegates:

“It is likely that the first cohort of deals will be announced soon for a small number of our member councils, which we strongly welcome.

“But there cannot be any let up in the drive for county devolution. Time is of the essence in getting our economies back on their feet, and we simply cannot afford a protracted wait for further negotiations.

“Which is why we want to see the highest level of ambition and pace from the government on county devolution. After all, surely the whole point of levelling up is that no part of the country should be left behind.

“CCN will continue to push for more county and unitary areas to get the funding they need, the powers and flexibilities they need and the support that they need from Government.

“It is imperative that the next tranche of negotiations begin straight after the first deals are signed, and for devolution to be systematically rolled out to county areas across England. The CCN will lead the charge in making this case.”

Grant Thornton’s report is released later today at the CCN Annual Conference 2021. The study independently assesses the most suited devolution models and local leadership to spearhead new arrangements, alongside the devolved powers and funding that could make the most difference to the levelling up agenda.

The report concludes:

  • Mayoral combined authorities are not the most suitable model for county deals in most cases and the government should maintain its commitment to explore alternative governance options. When independently assessed, devolving directly to leaders of county and unitary authorities is the scored the most readily deliverable model to devolve and funding powers on the scale of existing city devolution deals.
  • The government should begin a rolling programme of county deals and not stop at an initial phase of first cohort of deals, so areas are not left behind in supporting the economic recovery.
  • There should be parity with existing devolution deals agreed with the major cities, as starting point, in both powers devolved and funding available.
  • But the government should also go even further than it has done with the cities, and grant counties even more ambitious deals. Proposals could include new powers for councils in county deals, such as a net-zero investment fund to help to decarbonise areas, devolution of the Shared Prosperity Fund to local areas, powers to levy council tax on unimplemented developments and the capability to propose a tourism tax.

On the findings of the Grant Thornton report, Cllr Oliver will tell the delegates:

“Our new report with Grant Thornton, to be presented later, provides further independent evidence to inform the final stages of the development of the White Paper and, crucially, support our member councils to bring forward ambitious proposals supported by the most appropriate governance models.

“It shows that empowering county and unitary authorities directly through existing leadership models, offers the most suitable, readily deliverable, strong local leadership for county devolution outside our major cities.”

Phil Woolley, Partner and Head of Public Services Consulting at Grant Thornton UK LLP said:

“To successfully deliver levelling up it is vital that the government genuinely understands our local places, prioritises and focuses investment where most needed, and aligns local and national priorities to enable local government to deliver.”

“We are pleased to have been commissioned by CCN to produce the first national report on County Deals, which will be critical element to the success of levelling up across England. The government’s guiding principles on county deals provide the flexibility needed for county areas to progress potential deals, and we hope that these principles form part of the planned white paper.”

Notes to Editor

  • The CCN Annual Conference 2021 takes place today and tomorrow in Marlow, Buckinghamshire. It features a wide range of speakers alongside Michael Gove, including Social Care Minister Gillian Keegan, Chair of the Health Select Committee Jeremy Hunt, Josh Macalister, Chair of the Government’s Independent Review of Children’s Services and former cabinet minister, Alan Milburn.
  • The figure on possible funding available as part of county devolution deals was derived from analysing investment funds for existing deals, agreed since 2015. This showed that per capita the investment fund for those areas could range from £5.27 up to £13.34. This was then translated to the county authority footprint by multiplying the maximum and minimum per capita figures by the population of the county authority. This showed that the investment funds ranged from c£7 million to c21 million at the top of the range and c£3 million to c£8 million at the lower end.