William Eichler 22 July 2021

Empowering county councils ‘game-changer’ for levelling-up

Empowering county councils ‘game-changer’ for levelling-up image

County leaders have written to the Prime Minister welcoming his commitment to empower county authorities and urging him to follow through on what they describe as a ‘game-changer’ for levelling-up.

Last week, the PM promised to ‘rewrite’ the rulebook on devolution, offering the same powers to county areas as those given to city regions in devolution deals in previous years. Currently, only three counties have secured a devolution deal.

The County Councils Network (CCN) has written to the PM welcoming the commitment and saying that county leaders are ready to deliver the Government’s agenda ‘through substantive devolved powers that until now have only been available to mayors in the city regions.’

However, the letter urges ministers to ensure that county councils and unitary authorities lead negotiations with government to secure powers in areas such as transport, infrastructure, and skills, which could have a major impact on rebuilding communities.

The letter comes as new report from PwC urges national Government to take a ‘golden opportunity’ and empower councils to lead the levelling up agenda in England, and fundamentally ‘rethink’ their councils’ in society.

PwC’s The Future of Local Government report argues that ending the inequity in devolved powers requires county and unitary councils to lead negotiations for their areas, and that the Levelling Up White Paper should set out a ‘clear and equitable framework’ for councils to secure powers over infrastructure, transport, and skills for these areas.

Produced with CCN, the report concludes that England needs its councils to do ‘more than just survive’ and should lead the response to what it describes as the biggest challenges facing the country.

Paul Deegan, lead partner - health industries and local services consulting at PwC, commented: ‘Our analysis shows that fundamental decisions must be taken now about the shape, resources and powers local authorities will need to continue to lead their places.

‘Now is the time to capitalise on the role councils can play as leaders of place and ensure they remain relevant in 2030. This is a golden opportunity. Local government recognises the need for accelerated change. National government needs to create the environment that allows this to happen.

‘National Government has an opportunity to recognise the strength of local government and the level of trust placed in councils by their residents. By putting councils with the size and scale to lead at a local level in the driving seat, agreeing more ambitious devolution deals at a county level, it is much more likely to achieve its levelling up ambitions.’

‘The Prime Minister’s commitment to rewrite the rule book on devolution to counties could be a game-changer for the levelling up agenda, demonstrating a real vote in confidence for ambitious local leadership outside our major cities,’ said Cllr Tim Oliver, chairman-elect of CCN.

‘We now need words to turn into action on the ground, with this report backing county and unitary authorities to lead negotiations and work with partners to secure substantive powers in areas such as infrastructure, transport, and skills.

‘Today’s report from PwC showcases local government’s achievements during the pandemic, and rightly concludes that it is best to lead the charge on the most pressing social and economic challenges in our communities.

‘More than ever before, England needs its councils to do more than survive. It needs us to be proactive, engaging, and resilient – capable of helping people achieve their aspirations, and in supporting local populations as they look to recover and rebuild.’

Mr Deegan told The MJ local government needs to accelerate change and grasp the opportunities offered by devolution if they want to stay relevant in 2030.

The Brownfield Land Release Fund image

The Brownfield Land Release Fund

To what extent does this early initiative of the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities deliver on the ‘levelling up’ agenda? Lawrence Turner reports.
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