The County Councils Network (CCN) had raised concerns over the impact of inflation on roads maintenance budgets last week, so today’s announcement of an extra £200m for local authorities sees the government acting on the network’s calls.
CCN had also highlighted that the number of people taking early retirement in county areas was just over 100,000 since the start of the Coronavirus pandemic, and today the government announced measures to incentivise this cohort back to the labour market.
The Chancellor also announced that it intends for the functions of LEPs ‘to be delivered by local government in the future’, and has launched a consultation on its plans. This is something the CCN has long argued for.
Finally, the government also announced its intention to begin the next wave of county devolution deals.
Below, CCN responds to the announcements.
Cllr Tim Oliver, Chairman of the County Councils Network, said:
“Today’s Budget was delivered in a challenging set of financial and economic circumstances. Key to addressing this is supporting county authorities to promote and secure local growth, and today had a range of positive announcements.
“The County Councils Network (CCN) has long argued that county roads and infrastructure are the arteries of England’s economy. Last week the network warned that its councils will have to scale back roads maintenance and infrastructure improvements due to inflation, so the announcement of an additional £200m of capital funding for councils shows that the government has acted on our calls and provided a significant boost to local authorities.
“Whilst this funding, alongside the announcement of £63m for leisure centres will make a big difference, they do not address all of the extra inflationary costs impacting on councils, and some difficult decisions will still be required.
“The Budget also took important steps forward in enabling local leaders to drive local growth. CCN strongly supports the government’s intention to transfer functions of Local Enterprise Partnerships to councils. County and unitary authorities are best placed to deliver local skills and business support programmes, in close collaboration with business partners, and we will work closely with ministers to develop their proposals through the consultation.
“This must be combined with devolving greater powers and funding to local leaders to drive local – and therefore national – growth. Confirmation that the government intends begin a new wave of devolution negotiations this year is very welcome. We need to go further and faster on this agenda which is why CCN has called on government for two-thirds of its members to have either agreed a deal or begun negotiations by the end of this Parliament, including all those named in the Levelling Up White Paper.
“The Chancellor has also made an important announcement on trailblazer status for the West Midlands and Greater Manchester Combined Authorities, including devolution of further pots of funding. It is important that county areas have access to the same level of powers and freedoms, and we urge the government to now set out a firm timetable on today’s ambition of single multi-year funding settlements and further powers for other ‘Level 3’ areas too, so that they can maximise their potential and deliver growth.
“Wider announcements to support economic growth, such as policies to incentivise people to re-join the labour market are also important with our recent research showing that 100,000 people have taken early retirement in county areas since the start of the pandemic. The extension of free childcare and funding allocated is welcome and will help encourage more parents of young children back to work, but it is important that government works closely with local authorities to ensure the new entitlement does not destabilise the market or affect childcare sufficiency, particularly in rural areas.”