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Counties lobby for more devolved powers to ‘wake sleeping giants’

Words: Huw Morris

The government must devolve public spending and tax raising powers to county councils to unleash the country’s economic ‘sleeping giants’ after Brexit.

A report for the County Councils Network by Oxford Economics warns that the country’s growth is set to slow to below that of the EU. But devolving fiscal powers to England’s counties could rebalance the economy, invigorate the industrial strategy and help the country absorb any Brexit aftershocks.

This could generate more than a million jobs in the next 10 years, generate an extra £26.3 billion for the country over five years and save the public sector £11.7 billion.

The study shows county areas generate a net surplus to the Treasury, making up 41 per cent of the English economy, delivering £600 billion in gross value added, and account for 44 per cent of the nation’s jobs – a more significant contribution than the biggest cities.

However, county economies are hampered by low productivity levels, a high concentration of unskilled jobs, house prices 6 per cent above the national average, areas with low concentrations of high-growth sectors, and a high proportion of export industries that could be affected by Brexit.

Only two counties, Cambridgeshire and Cornwall, have benefited from the government’s much-heralded “devolution revolution”, despite the majority submitting bids.

“We welcome the government’s intention to remove its requirement for metro-mayors as part of devolution deals, which would greatly simplify negotiations for county areas,” said the network chairman Paul Carter.

“We stand ready and waiting to work with this administration to create tangible devolution to our rural areas, ensuring we truly have an economy that works for everyone, and more importantly, an economy that is resilient and able to successfully adjust to life outside the EU.”

Image credit | Cambridge Science Park – Wayne Boucher