CCN outlines its post-election priorities, urging government to ‘level up’ and unleash the potential of counties

CCN Latest News, CCN News 2019 | 18 December 2019

Leaders of England’s largest councils have urged new ministers to ensure that their pledge to unleash the potential of the country does not ignore the needs of ‘left behind areas’ in shire counties.

A post-election analysis from the County Councils Network (CCN), which represents 36 county local authorities, shows that 43% of the new seats (22 out of 51) won by the Conservatives in England on Thursday are in shire counties, whilst 54 out of the 100 ‘left-behind’ towns identified by the government in its Stronger Towns Fund are in these areas.

In a new document, which you can download by clicking the image to the left, sets out how the government’s policies can help ‘unleash the potential of counties’. County leaders call for their areas to receive a fair share of funding for public services, more investment in economic growth, and an extension of devolved powers to the shires.

The CCN argues that a ‘misconception’ that shire counties are all affluent and city-centric regional devolution policies could prevent them being able to invest in their towns and deprived communities as part of the levelling up agenda. These councils span the North and Midlands alongside rural and coastal communities in areas of the south, west and east. 

You can download an executive summary of the document here.

The priorities outlined in the document are:

  • Sustainable & Fair Funding: Providing a multi-year funding settlement to meet councils’ spending need, delivering the fair funding review and reforming local government finance so it is more efficient.
  • Reforming Adults & Children’s Social Care: A solution to social care funding and reforming care services across the life cycle; improving integration with health, investing in prevention and reforming special educational needs and disabilities legislation.
  • Devolution For All: Extending ‘ambitious’ devolution deals to county areas to enable counties to access fresh powers in skills, transport, and regional growth.
  • Creating Communities: A more strategic approach to planning, matched by new infrastructure financing, while enabling counties to continue to provide culture services, improve community safety and wellbeing.
  • Growing Our Economies: Creating the conditions for thriving economies in our communities by utlising the role of county authorities in place-based growth, devolving skills budgets and investing in transport and connectivity.
  • Tackling Climate Change: Equipping authorities with new powers and resources to tackle climate change and respond to extreme weather, including a fair distribution of new flood defence investment, particularly for rural and remote areas.

CCN argues that the government must press ahead with plans to ensure that the way councils are funded is fairer and to deliver on its pledge to convene urgent cross-party talks on social care.

A new analysis by CCN reveals failure to invest in county areas, and to solve the social care funding crisis, will leave these councils facing a funding shortfall of £13.2bn over the next five years.

If these funding challenges persist, CCN warns that councils will be hampered in their efforts to address the government’s levelling up agenda, with local authorities unable to invest heavily in services to support regional growth such as new roads and infrastructure, bus subsidies, business support and cultural services.

The document also calls for the government to abandon a ‘city centric policy obsession’ in Whitehall to help unleash the potential of counties, such as:

  • Allowing bids from rural areas to access the government’s flagship £4.1bn Local Public Transport Fund to help reverse the decline in local bus services in county towns and rural areas.
  • A more balanced distribution of central infrastructure funding between counties and cities and targeting the new ‘pothole fund’ on county areas.
  • Reviewing the future of Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) and whether they should be the main vehicle to deliver local industrial strategies.
  • Equipping authorities with new powers and resources to tackle climate change and respond to extreme weather, including a fair distribution of new flood defence investment, particularly for rural and remote areas.

Cllr David Williams, chairman of the County Councils Network, and leader of Hertfordshire County Council, said:

“Boris Johnson’s majority government has been elected on a domestic agenda to level-up the left-behind parts of the country, and this is a pledge that CCN welcome.

“Counties are home to some of our most prosperous and successful areas, but we must not forget that the majority of left behind areas are located within counties; from deprived towns in the north and south, rural and coastal communities in the south-west and east, to former manufacturing hotbeds in the Midlands.

“If the government is to improve the lives of the communities it has pledged to support, then ministers and policymakers must move beyond the misconception that shire counties are all affluent, with this document setting out the tools, powers, and funding needed to unleash the potential of counties. If the government is to genuinely level-up towns, build more homes, and improve regional growth we need more devolved powers, reform to our planning system and access to new funding streams. This will mean moving away from a city centric policy obsession in Westminster that has held back those left-behind communities for decades.”

“Fairer funding and a cross-party consensus on social care reform is needed to help close the £13.2bn funding shortfall of facing our areas. By doing so, we can repay this investment by pledging resource to the growth-enabling services that can make the biggest difference in levelling up communities and spreading prosperity.

Notes to editor

  • Download the new document ‘CCN: Our Priorities for the New Government’ here.
  • CCN commissioned Pixel Financial Management (Pixel) to update PwC’s original funding gap analysis using new forecasts for expected local government for the period 2020/21 to 2024/25. This followed the outcome of the Spending Round (September 2019) and subsequent Technical Consultation on the Local Government Settlement 2020/21. We have also considered the content of the Conservative Party manifesto and the specific pledges made to inform our future forecasts.
  • The full analysis will be published in early 2020, but the core new assumptions adopted for the analysis are:
    ‘Spending need’ remains unchanged from PwC report:
    Continuation of temporary social care grants (£650m) from 2020/21 onwards.
    Additional £1bn social care funding for 2020/21 onwards.
    Annual 1.7% increase in Settlement Funding Assessment and 3% growth in public health grant from 2020/21 onwards
    Annual growth in council tax base growth of 1.84% included in base-case, with rate increase considered separately.
    Increasing council tax 4% in 2020/21 and a further 2% from 2021/22 onwards reduces the cumulative shortfall to £7.7bn.