Cllr David Hodge is the Leader of Surrey County Council and Chairman of the County Councils Network
With the announcement of the cities devolution bill, there is a need for the new Government to carefully consider the contribution that can be made by those of us representing county areas.
The importance of this issue should not be understated. Counties are not asking for devolution for its own sake. The issue is actually at the core of allowing the new Government to strengthen the economy and public services over the next five years.
The Conservative Party’s victory was partly built on the resurgence of the UK economy. It has been county areas that have been at the core of cutting unemployment, rebalancing our economies and developing businesses that can compete in tough international arenas. We contribute 41 per cent of GVA and over £66bn in income tax alone. This continued growth is at risk if action is not taken. Given the massive pressure on our infrastructure and the demands on our services as well as our funding challenges over the next five years, we are reaching the end of what we can do to support local businesses with our existing powers. With devolved powers similar to those being offered to cities, councils in two tier areas could achieve some spectacular gains – not just for their residents but for the nation as a whole.
Our research has shown that for skills and training alone, devolving powers to correct skills gaps would allow our businesses to contribute an extra £8.2bn to the country’s economy and begin helping 700,000 more people into jobs by 2020.
There is a huge appetite to do more. This week the County Councils Network and the District Councils Networks made a joint devolution statement for the first time. It described the opportunity of extending devolution beyond cities into two-tier areas and committed our members to developing a framework that could make it a reality. These plans must be part of the national devolution debate. To fail to do so would be a huge missed opportunity for the country and the 23 million people living outside major cities.
George Osborne said the old model of running everything from London is broken. All of us heartily agree and greatly look forward to working closely with the Government to address this. We are ready, willing and able to do more for our residents, but devolution cannot now be discussed only in terms of major cites or Scotland. It is vital the offer is widened to the rest of the country so we can secure prosperity for the generations to come