William Eichler 21 November 2022

County leaders call for devolution to be ‘turbocharged’

County leaders call for devolution to be ‘turbocharged’  image
Image: one photo/Shutterstock.com.

County council leaders have called on the Government to ‘turbocharge’ devolution to help them level up by attracting more foreign direct investment (FDI).

A new report by EY research, commissioned by the County Councils Network (CCN), has revealed that the per-capita ratio of FDI projects in England’s 36 county areas over the past four years is just half of that of England’s big cities that have access to devolved powers.

EY research also found that there are seven times fewer FDI projects in county areas than in London.

This disparity in the per-capita ratio of FDI projects is despite county areas securing more projects in total over the last four years than the major cities which are governed by mayoral combined authorities. The disparity is revealed once the data has been adjusted by population.

The CCN argues that county areas are at a disadvantage compared to the major cities, and called for the Government to conclude devolution negotiations with all nine areas as soon as possible, then begin a fresh wave of county deals before the end of the year.

The County Councils Network hopes to see two-thirds of county areas either with a deal in place or having started discussions by the end of this Parliament.

Cllr Tim Oliver, chairman of the County Councils Network, will today tell CCN Conference: ‘Today’s research on FDI is a success story for county areas. We are uniquely placed to attract investments in both new and traditional industries and locating in county areas creates more jobs than other parts of the country.

‘But despite this, county areas lag behind the major cities and London when it comes to FDI, which is unevenly spread across the country. The cities are the ones with devolution deals where they can pull the levers that make places more attractive to investors, so it is vital the government turbocharges devolution to the county areas currently at an economic disadvantage.

‘If we are to level up the country, then government must unshackle county areas. In order to maximise investment in all four corners of the country, county local authority leaders must have all the tools available at our disposal.’

Rohan Malik, EY UK&I Government and Infrastructure Leader, added: ‘While the report's findings highlight that the UK as a whole remains a leading destination for inward investment, there are deep-rooted inequalities between regional economies which won't be reversed overnight.

‘The Government's announced freeze on capital spending after 2025, alongside the increasingly significant financial constraints faced by local authorities, means that the opportunity for the private sector to play a role in addressing these inequalities has never been greater.

‘Attracting foreign direct investment, and business investment more generally, is a key lever to stimulate regional growth with. The potential for local authorities to attract greater private sector investment is there, but it will require a combined approach with business, central government and local authorities working closely together and taking action for the long term.’

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