Counties are the backbone of the English economy, representing 41% of GDP and containing almost half of the population. Yet they face specific socio-economic challenges that will become more imperative to address as the country heads into post-Brexit waters.
Despite the funding challenges faced by local government, counties’ ambitions for their communities still burn brightly. Outside of the cities, county areas provide the coherent natural geographies for devolution and public service reform to take place. They offer the size and scale to work across economic areas and with public service provides in health, police and transport. They have the local identities that are recognised nationally, coupled with their intimate knowledge of their economies. Counties have the size to do business with Whitehall, whilst having the local knowledge of what works for their communities.
However, many county leaders remain frustrated; shackled by a lack of powers and devolved funding to truly make a difference. To reboot the devolution agenda, CCN believes there is a compelling case for counties to be recast as ‘strategic authorities’ – the accountable body directly responsible for fresh new powers.
Working with local partners, we want a stronger role for counties in housing, moving towards more strategic planning backed with devolved infrastructure funding; a larger role for counties in the health integration agenda; local commissioning of skills and employment budgets; and retaining the key role of county authorities in Local Enterprise Partnerships to deliver local industrial strategies.
The Common Devolution Framework provides the opportunity to unleash the potential of our counties and create a real platform for A Fairer Future for Counties.