With place-based growth and ‘levelling up’ the country firmly at the forefront of the Government’s policy agenda, our new report with the County Councils’ Network outlines the vital role that county authorities have to play in its success. It also lays bare the challenges facing communities in these areas, which cover almost half the population of England.
The research found that over the past five years, county authority areas’ growth rates (measured by GVA) have lagged behind other parts of the country. GVA has grown by 14.1% in county authority areas, and 16.7% for the rest of the country.
It also found that 30 of the 36 county authority areas have workplace productivity levels below the England average. This is partly a reflection of the different sectors operating in county authority areas, but also reflects the low levels of large businesses and low business formation rates. More than 30 county authority areas have below average business formation rates and growth in total business stock has been slow over the past five years, increasing by 7.9% compared to 15.1% for non-county areas.
It is clear that county authorities face complex and multi-faceted challenges; challenges where the ‘gap’ to the national average is often significant.
It is a challenge that in some places is exacerbated by the variability in performance that exists within county authority areas. Taken together, these differences underline the danger of a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to policy. Two of our key recommendations to support growth and address spatial imbalances, in county authorities and across the country, are for the devolution White Paper to consider devolving budgets and powers to county authorities and for Growth Boards to be established in every county authority area.
Paul Dossett is head of local government at Grant Thornton UK LLP