Government should reshape its relationship with rural England and offer county areas a ‘new deal’, a new publication argues.
The County Councils Network’s blueprint for the next five years, ‘A New Deal For Counties’ sets out county areas’ priorities over the next few years, urging the government work with counties and match their ambitions for powers and address their concerns over funding.
County leaders have demanded that in the wake of the general election result the Conservative Government reach out to rural areas and deliver a ‘fairer’ deal for those communities; with a new and fairer funding package the central demand of the largest grouping of councils in England.
Download the report here.
CCN has said it is imperative that government continues its commitment to the fair funding review in the absence of business rates legislation. They argue that counties cannot keep delivering high-quality frontline services whilst being the lowest funding type of authority and have demanded that Whitehall work with counties to develop alternative long-term funding arrangements.
The document also sets out nine areas of policy proposals across devolution, economic growth, housing, education, health and social care.
On devolution and the industrial strategy, CCN is calling on the Government to prioritise county economies and their role in securing economic growth. They argue that the manifesto commitment on the removal of the mayoral requirement for devolution deals and promise of a ‘common devolution framework’ should be delivered.
CCN backs proposals by Localis for Government to devolve by default a range of powers to ‘Strategic Authorities’ to deliver the benefits of devolution; while a recent study by Oxford Economics on county economies estimates that devolving public spending to county areas could raise England’s economic growth to 2.7% per year over the next decade – significantly higher than current projections of 1.9% per year – and deliver a million new jobs.
The publication comes as CCN seeks urgent clarification from DCLG on its policy position following recent comments by the Northern Powerhouse Minister, Jake Berry MP, that devolution should be confined to Cities. Counties say that it wouldn’t be acceptable for county communities, and their MPs, for rural communities to be left behind the devolved administrations and Core Cities.
Elsewhere, the document also outlines the counties’ ambition to assist the government’s housebuilding drive through an enhanced role for county councils. By upscaling to strategic planning over a county area, reforming developer contributions, and bringing together planning and infrastructure functions, counties suggest they can better work with local government partners to deliver more homes and essential infrastructure.
The Plan for Government also proposes:
CCN Chairman, Cllr Paul Carter, said:
“Counties have the ambition, track record and appetite to do much more. We look forward to working with Central Government on new, fair and constructive way forward.
“For this to become a reality we need government to work with Counties to deliver a “new deal” for our areas that delivers fairness for our residents, but also trusts and empowers us.
“We cannot continue to deliver high quality frontline services and push through innovation when we are the lowest funded authorities. If new deals are being agreed in other parts of the United Kingdom, then so should the areas that form the backbone of England’s society and economy.
“If devolution can be achieved in our great cities, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales, it can work for the great counties of England. The potential of our economies and the desire of our 26 million residents for local decision making cannot be overlooked.”
CCN Director, Simon Edwards, said:
“After extensive engagement with our members following County Elections, and building on our recent Your County Matters campaign, this comprehensive publication sets out an ambitious blueprint on how counties can drive through reform locally and provide solutions to major challenges nationally, from social care to housebuilding, to ensuring the economy is growing successfully.
“As a strong cross party organisation, CCN wants to work constructively with this government and influence officials across Whitehall and the wider sector; presenting evidence-based solutions at a time of uncertainty in Westminster.
“CCN will continue to stand up for its members in ensuring that this administration’s promises are enacted, especially the fairer funding review. At the same time, government can only deliver a successful Industrial Strategy if it places more of an emphasis on county economies and we work towards ambitious and appropriate devolution settlements for their areas.
“Importantly, this document highlights the priorities for CCN over the coming period and our objective to work closely with our national partners, including the LGA, to achieve the ambitions of our member councils.”
The main report has been split into four smaller publications.