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Social mobility of counties fettered by ‘outdated’ and unfair council funding system

An inquiry has found that the least socially mobile areas in England are counties, held back by “outdated” and “inequitable” council funding and the false idea that they are ‘well-off.’ 

These are the finding of ‘Social Mobility in Counties,’ a report carried out by the County All-Party-Parliamentary Group (APPG) and County Councils Network (CCN), which states that the growing financial strain on local authorities and current method of funding has led to a “cycle of low social mobility.”

Eight of the bottom 10 least socially mobile parts of England are county areas and are “overwhelmingly” rural and coastal, according to the report.

Counties are often perceived as being affluent and this perception, MPs say, has “masked deep-seated socio-economic challenges and deprivation in shire counties.”

It is outlined in the report that, on average, London councils receive £482 per head and metropolitan boroughs and cities get £351 per head, whereas county areas only see £182 per head.

Earlier this year, analysis by the CCN revealed that councils across England needed to collectively reduce spending by almost £1bn by next February to balance the books.

This strain on local government finances has led to bare-bones ‘core offers’ for local services at risk of becoming the norm. This has fettered a county council’s abilities to provide services that promote social mobility, with the report finding that transport networks in particular are a “major hinderance” to counties’ social mobility.

David Phillips, associate director at the Institute for Fiscal Studies, recently wrote in the latest issue of PSE to discuss current health of local government finance, and how a better formula could help manage this situation.

The report also features a new ‘social mobility index’ drawn up by thinktank Localis, which draws on the Social Mobility Commission research and employment, skills, early years, and education data.

The index found no indication of a north/south divide in social mobility, but instead, reiterating the report’s finding, found a clear city/rural divide.

Rural areas such as Devon, Kent, Cumbria and Durham, as well as coastal towns like Dorset and Norfolk, are all in the bottom 10 on the social mobility index.

A lack of employment opportunities and rural remoteness giving way to a ‘brain drain’ as youngsters move away to university cities were amongst the factors that caused this negative trend. 

MPs are therefore calling for a fairer funding system, something the government is currently reviewing, with a new system expected to be introduced by 2020. It was also recommended that the government devolve skills and budget powers, similar to that of city region and metro mayors, to counties.

Peter Aldous MP, chairman of the County APPG, said: “An outdated and inequitable method of funding local authorities has disproportionally channelled funding towards London and the major cities; holding back social mobility in county areas, and embedding a cycle of low life chances for residents. This is unfair.

“Funding is only part of the answer; today’s report showcases the innovative work county authorities are doing to raise social mobility in their areas, but their ambitions are hamstrung. If we are to bridge rural vs urban divide in social mobility, then government needs to ensure that counties have fair and sustainable funding in future, backed by the powers to genuinely make a difference.”

Jonathan Werran, chief executive of Localis, added: “Our research for the commission shows young people in London are pulling away from the rest of the country in opportunity and educational outcomes as soon as they enter school.

“Young people growing up in coastal and rural areas of England are then further constrained by poor skills infrastructure and in many cases weak prospects for finding good local jobs that pay decent wages. 

“Devolution of the adult skills budgets to all strategic authorities, and a more ambitious reconfiguration of local political economies represent two main opportunities for boosting social mobility and delivering the promise of an inclusive growth that can help bridge today’s unacceptably wide urban-rural divide.”

Top image: georgeclerk


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