William Eichler 04 July 2018

Devolution crucial to weathering post-Brexit ‘storm’, council chiefs say

Local authority leaders have called on Whitehall to give them more powers in order to deal with the ‘perfect storm’ that is likely to hit rural communities after the UK exits the European Union (EU).

The final report from the Local Government Association’s (LGA) Post-Brexit England Commission examines the challenges and opportunities faced by non-metropolitan England.

Published at the LGA’s annual conference, the report warns of a demographic time bomb with national population projections showing that by 2039 for every 100 working-age residents there will be 53 people aged 65 or older.

This is likely, the report warns, to put increasing pressure on already overstretched health services in rural areas.

The report also found that residents were struggling to stay in their local community due to a lack of affordable homes. The average house price in non-metropolitan England is 60% more expensive than in cities outside of London.

The LGA warned rural businesses were grappling with patchy mobile and broadband connectivity that cuts off their access to new markets. The report cites a recent survey conducted by Amazon revealing almost 40% rated their internet connection speed as poor.

There is also, according to the report, a growing workforce skills gap across all areas, which if not addressed could put at risk 4% of future economic growth across the country — the equivalent to a loss of £90bn economic output.

The LGA sets out a list of asks to prepare rural councils for after Brexit, including giving all councils the ability to borrow to build new affordable homes, and devolving funding and control over under-performing national skills and employment schemes to local areas.

The report also called on Whitehall to hand councils legal powers to ensure all new build homes are connected to future-proofed digital infrastructure and plugging the adult social care funding gap which will reach £3.5bn by 2025.

‘Rural areas face a perfect storm,’ said Cllr Mark Hawthorne, chairman of the LGA’s People and Places Board.

‘It is increasingly difficult for people to buy a home in their local community, mobile and broadband connectivity can be patchy, and people living within rural and deeply rural communities face increasing isolation from health services.

‘If Britain is to make the most of a successful future outside of the European Union, it’s essential that our future success is not confined to our cities.

‘Unless the Government can give non-metropolitan England the powers and resources it needs, it will be left behind.’ 

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