With the hospitality sector now open, the country is slowly leaving the first phase of the pandemic.
Many of us are turning our attention to the next phase: economic recovery. If councils have played an integral part in combating the virus, they will have an equally important role in helping their communities back onto their feet.
Emerging findings from upcoming research by Grant Thornton for the County Councils Network show the unique challenges facing our areas. The analysis shows that county areas contain the highest proportion of jobs within ‘at risk’ sectors such as manufacturing, retail, and tourism.
Considering that differing areas will have differing needs – some may be vulnerable to a drop in tourism, others to a decline in the global economy – a successful recovery will be one that is place-based, rather than a ‘one size fits all’ national solution.
County authorities can play a hugely important leadership and visionary role in setting out how their economies can recover, bringing together local partners. They can then translate these plans into results on the ground, utilising their scale to attract inward investment and spend government funding wisely on the right projects for their areas.
Here, a strong dialogue with business will be imperative and any effective recovery from the virus must look beyond simply just the high street – as important as that is. Economic recovery must address all the components of our local economies – from retail, to infrastructure, to skills.
That said, there will be similar issues played out across the country which will need to be addressed from the centre. Local government has come out of the epidemic with its reputation enhanced and county leaders are ready and willing to work with government on a two-pronged recovery role, supported by targeted funding and powers.
“A successful recovery will be one that is place-based, rather than a ‘one size fits all’ national solution”
This will be especially pertinent in relation to employment, where a quick and bold response will be needed. It is crucial that recovery plans are tailored to the requirements of specific local markets.
We have much of the infrastructure in place: we simply need the resources and powers to make the greatest impact. Counties have the scale and expertise to work effectively with local business and education providers alongside the Government.
Considering the scale of the challenge, there should be no limit to ambition, with upper-tier authorities playing a substantive role over several programmes: ranging from tailored support to re-skill people so they can quickly move into emerging employment sectors, to a flexible apprenticeships programme and ensuring young people leaving education have the support to secure a job or training.
The Prime Minister’s re-commitment to the ‘levelling-up’ agenda is hugely welcomed, and we have long argued that many of the left-behind localities in England are located within county areas. It is imperative all these areas receive support and resource, including access to devolution deals that work for those places.
As we look longer term, we cannot forget about the other global crisis – climate change. We cannot lose sight of the good work councils have done so far, and we cannot afford to put these endeavours on ice.
So, let’s roll up our sleeves and get on with the next phase: there is a huge amount of work yet to be done but also the opportunity to do things differently.