Grant Thornton Blog: Unleashing The Power of Counties

CCN Blogs | 14 April 2020

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On the 5 March we launched our report, in partnership with CCN, on Place-based growth – Unleashing counties’ role in levelling up England.  The report is available here and our previous blog on the report can be found here.

This report looks in some detail at the investment, influence and interventions made by county authorities in driving place-based growth in their areas alongside a wider analysis of the business environments, living standards and infrastructure provision in these places.  The report highlights both the range of challenges facing county authorities as well as the importance of ensuring that there is a place-based response to dealing with them: the multivariate nature of the challenges requires an intimate understanding of place.  In the light of the likely significant economic impact of COVID 19 on communities and places across the country these challenges are only going to become more pronounced.  The need for levers to drive growth in the next few years is therefore going to become even more critical.

The report highlights 10 recommendations that seek to build on the effective work that has already taken place and the strong place-leadership role that county authorities already play. At the heart of these recommendations sits a call for the English Devolution White Paper to consider how the devolution of powers to county authorities could assist in levelling-up the country, in driving local economic growth.  As we wait for this White Paper we think that there are a number of things that county authorities can and should be doing.  This includes:

  • Undertaking a detailed socio-economic analysis of the place in order to better understand the ‘functional’ area (consider housing market catchments, travel to work patterns etc); and to identify place specific strengths, weaknesses and opportunities.  It is this evidence that will sit at the heart of both the ‘ask’ and the ‘offer’ to government.
  • Identify and work with the key stakeholders within the place to clearly understand and articulate the current investment in place-based growth in terms of strategic priorities, financial commitments and influence.
  • Understand the forces and trends that are likely to impact and shape the place over the next 10 to 20 years and work with partners to understand how these trends may fundamentally shape and change the place.
  • Develop an overarching vision and set of ambitions for the place (not the organisation) that are evidence-based and align to key government priorities – ensure that these priorities are agreed and supported by a broad range of stakeholders and organisations outside of the local authority.
  • Invest in creating the infrastructure for collaboration within county areas; for example working with District Councils, other public services and local institutions. Strong collaboration and open lines of communication amongst local partners will help to lay the foundation for positive discussions about shared ambitions and reform, and inspire confidence in delivery from the perspective of central government.

The other recommendations include the need to set up insight and data led Growth Boards; bringing talent together within a place, ensuring greater consideration is given to the infrastructure requirements in non-metropolitan areas; giving counties strategic planning powers; and ensuring that funding processes are streamlined and simplified.

By 2041, 28.2 million people will live in county authority areas (a 9.5% increase from 2019). This will have profound implications on services, infrastructure provision, and resource requirement. The scale of this growth, coupled with the inequalities that exist both between counties and the national average, and within county authorities themselves, requires different action to be taken. This growth requires counties to be given more powers and funding so that they can use their intimate understanding of place to drive forward a joined-up approach to the delivery of growth. It requires a tailored response so that decisions about a place can be made by those who best understand it.

Rob Turner

Director, Public Services Advisory

Grant Thornton UK LLP