From Cumbria to Cornwall, Shropshire to Surrey, COVID-19 has had an unprecedented impact on places across the country in different ways. The County Councils’ Network has recently worked with Grant Thornton on a report that analyses the impact that the pandemic will have on places, and sets a bold vision as our members plan for their recovery and continue to drive the growth ambitions they had before the pandemic hit.
The new report, Place-based recovery: how counties can drive growth post COVID-19, shows that county areas are potentially more vulnerable to the economic impact of the virus compared to England’s major cities, and if there aren’t targeted solutions, the economic disparity between urban and county areas could get wider.
One of the starkest findings of the report is that almost six million employees, over half the total workforce, in county areas are working in ‘at risk’ job sectors such as manufacturing, retail and tourism. Estimates show that this could lead to a marked decline in annual GVA output that will be felt the most in county areas, potentially declining by 15%.
It is therefore imperative, for both people and place, that recovery is led locally and responds to the strengths and weaknesses of areas in order to drive recovery and progress to growth again.
A key recommendation in the report is the establishment of growth boards in every county across the country made up of local leaders and other key stakeholders. Paired with fiscal devolution, these boards would provide a democratically accountable body to join-up growth-related policy and decision making, ensuring that homes are built in the right places, with quality infrastructure as well access to jobs, skills training and education.
Green recovery and growth should be a golden thread running through all recovery activity and pave the way to tackle climate change and meet net zero targets.
The forthcoming devolution White Paper provides an opportune moment for the Government to empower places and give counties the powers and funding they need to level-up and ensure everyone everywhere has a bright future.
Peter French is senior policy officer at the County Councils’ Network