Devolution for counties

Last year, we all left the event feeling optimistic about the future of local government. Twelve months on, with the Spending Round behind us, it’s fair to say it has been a reasonably successful year, advocacy-wise, for councils.

While long-term pressures remain, the new administration’s recent interventions are clearly welcome and give us some important breathing space ahead of anticipated reforms to local government finance, coupled with a full Spending Review in 2020.

Therefore, we are going into this year’s conference with short-term finance issues not the centrepiece of discussion – although clearly still important!

Instead, the backdrop is a rebooted devolution agenda from the Government, with both the Prime Minister, the Chancellor, and Local Government Secretary Robert Jenrick making high-profile and enthusiastic statements on driving down powers and resources to the ‘left-behind’ parts of England.

Those areas are overwhelmingly located within England’s counties, and we welcome the pledges as we await more details in a promised Devolution White Paper.

This is something we will look to influence and shape as we head into this year’s CCN conference, where the theme is ‘unleashing the potential of counties’. The slogan is grounded in the acknowledgement that counties are doing hugely positive things in driving local, regional, and sub-national growth, but can do so much more with the shackles removed.

“We are determined to ensure that our areas see the investment opportunities and powers enjoyed by urban areas

The centrepiece of the event will be the launch of new research on how county authorities are driving innovation across housing, infrastructure, and economic growth, working alongside local enterprise partnerships, the private sector, and district partners.

At the same time, it will illustrate how much of this potential remains underused – making the case for stronger strategic powers to support planning, infrastructure delivery and economic growth, contributing to vibrant sustainable communities where families can live, learn, work and grow. Watch this space!

With the Government clearly interested in devolving downwards and wanting to see inclusive growth across all parts of the country, it’s a timely report. We are determined to ensure that our areas see the investment opportunities and powers enjoyed by urban areas.

Elsewhere, delegates can expect high-profile speakers and thought-provoking sessions on the major local government topics, including transformation in adult social care, presented by Newton Europe.

In recognition of children’s services rising up the political agenda, we have several plenaries exploring issues within care for younger people, including what ‘good’ looks like for services, the link between children’s and adults’ care services, and the emerging issue of county lines.

With Brexit unavoidable one way or another, we look forward to the Institute for Government’s thoughts on where we are nationally and the impact on local authorities, as well as a session looking ahead to next year’s three-year Spending Review: it is important to begin our advocacy in earnest.

I hope to see many county colleagues at conference as we look to the opportunities – and challenges – ahead.

The County Councils Network’s annual conference takes place in Guildford from 17-19 November. For more information and to book a place, please visit www.countycouncilsnetwork.org.uk.

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