The analysis from the County Councils Network (CCN) shows that the number of people claiming out of work benefits has grown fastest in county and rural areas since March 2020, more than doubling during the pandemic across the 36 county areas it represents – rising by 123% since March 2020. This is compared to a rise of 84% in Northern towns and cities.
The research is published as the CCN launches its new campaign: Counties: Leading Recovery, Delivering Renewal. This campaign aims to highlight that county councils and unitary councils in counties will have the lead role in local economic recovery efforts, particularly in re-skilling individuals, infrastructure, and green growth, and in setting ambitious visions for their areas.
In addition, data shows that their economies are projected to contract by almost £60bn since the start of the pandemic in England.
Those 36 county areas have also witnessed the fastest growth in furloughed employees during the past six months which has seen a national lockdown re-introduced – with almost 1.5 million people in county areas now currently on furlough.
Councils fear that these people and more will not have jobs to return to once the scheme winds down in the Autumn, because there are 5.9m people in county areas who are working in employment at risk of widespread closures, some 53% of the entire workforce and higher than Northern towns and cities.
The CCN says that the analysis shows that rural and large county areas in all four corners of the country have borne as much of the brunt of the economic shock as urban locations. They argue a ‘narrow and simplistic’ focus on northern towns and cities in the forthcoming Levelling-Up White Paper could overlook the needs of their areas, and risks those communities becoming left-behind areas too, devoid of the employment and skills needed.
Analysing the economic impact of coronavirus for the 12-month period to March 2021 reveals:
The CCN has called on the government to ensure that their levelling up agenda does not bypass county areas, with more powers to councils to address the need to create new jobs and re-skill individuals.
The network is calling on the government to ensure regional investment as part of the levelling up agenda reaches all four corners of the nation. Alongside they say the forthcoming Levelling-Up White Paper must include ambitious proposals for the devolution of new powers to councils to help drive local economic recovery strategies, including powers over skills and employment budgets.
The CCN argues that these county authorities should be given the same devolved powers and budgets on skills and adult employment as metro mayors, which cover large swathes of Northern and West Midlands towns, and to make these powers accessible in the forthcoming Levelling-Up White Paper. This is so those councils can help re-skill their workforce, tailored to what individual economies require.
Watch coverage of the research across regional BBC programmes this morning below.
Cllr Barry Lewis, Economic Growth Spokesperson for the County Councils Network, said:
“County areas have not been without their challenges but historically had low unemployment until the economic devastation of the pandemic, which has led to an explosion in people claiming out of work benefits. This could just be the start: with half of the workforce in counties employed in at risk sectors we fear that thousands of people will not have jobs to go back into once furlough ends.
“To date, there has been an understandable focus on levelling-up Northern towns, but an overly narrow and simplistic focus which bypasses rural and shire counties will hamper the country’s economic recovery. This analysis shows that levelling up needs to happen right across all four corners of England.
“To ensure county areas don’t become left-behind communities, we are urging the government to not forget about these places when it comes to the distributing resources as part of levelling-up. In addition, county authorities should be given the powers and resource to lead economic recovery efforts locally, in recognition that each county area will have individual solutions.”
Launching CCN’s new Counties: Leading Recovery, Delivering Renewal campaign, Acting Chairman Cllr David Fothergill said:
“This analysis vividly illustrates that the economic fallout of the virus is impacting on all four corners of England and if we are to truly unleash the potential of the entire country, government must ensure that counties are at the heart of the levelling-up agenda. That is why this year CCN has launched its new campaign Counties: Leading Recovery, Delivering Renewal.
“This campaign will recognise that local government will need to continue to adapt to reflect the fundamental changes brought about by the pandemic, building on some of the positive changes, as well as increasing resilience, agility and the skills required to be able to overcome economic and social challenges exacerbated by Coronavirus.
“The extraordinary circumstances of 2020 have forced us all to rethink the role of public services, none more so when it comes to economic recovery and green growth. As strategic leaders of place, county authorities are already forging their own local economic recovery plans. But to ensure that the whole country can build back better, they need the powers and resources to match their ambitions, ensuring that levelling up doesn’t neglect their areas and the potential our councils to proactively support the recovery.”
Jobseekers Allowance change – year since March 2020
|Area||Claimant count March 2020||Claimant count March 2021||Increase||Percentage increase||Number of new claimants per day||Percentage of working population March 2020||Percentage of working population March 2021|
|Yorkshire and the Humber||10,875
|CCN councils total||341,165||762,430
Furloughed staff and jobs at risk
|Area||Furloughed individuals October 2020||Furloughed individuals March 2021||Increase||Percentage increase||Jobs at risk||Percentage of jobs at risk as proportion of overall jobs||GVA decline|
|Yorkshire and Humber||26,500||58,700
|East of England||167,600||315,400||147,800||88%||1,194,000
|CCN councils total||762,300||1,492,600||730,500||96%||5,777,450||53%||-£58.6bn|
CCN councils here are defined as the councils represented by the County Councils Network. A full list is here.
Metropolitan boroughs are defined as 36 local authorities, 7 of which are based in the West Midlands and 29 are based in the North, spanning West and South Yorkshire, Greater Manchester, Merseyside, and Tyne and Wear.
The core cities are defined here as the eight English core cities which make up the lobbying group, Core Cities. They are as follows: Birmingham, Bristol, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle, Nottingham, Sheffield.
Notes to editor