Counties warn ‘levelling up’ too narrow and simplistic

County council leaders have warned the narrow focus of the government’s levelling-up agenda could bypasses rural areas.

New figures released by the County Councils Network (CCN) show more than 1,000 people a day are claiming out of work benefits in the 12 months since the outbreak.

The analysis from the CCN shows that the number of people claiming out of work benefits has grown fastest in county and rural areas since March 2020, more than doubling during the pandemic across the 36 county areas it represents – rising by 123% since March 2020. This is compared to a rise of 84% in Northern towns and cities.

These unemployment figures come as data shows that their economies are projected to contract by almost £60bn since the start of the pandemic in England.

In addition, those 36 county areas have also witnessed the fastest growth in furloughed employees during the past six months which has seen a national lockdown re-introduced – with almost 1.5 million people in county areas now currently on furlough.

‘County areas have not been without their challenges, but historically had low unemployment until the economic devastation of the pandemic, which has led to an explosion in people claiming out of work benefits,’ said the CCN’s economic growth spokesman, Cllr Barry Lewis.

‘This could just be the start: with half of the workforce in counties employed in at risk sectors we fear that thousands of people will not have jobs to go back into once furlough ends.

‘To date, there has been an understandable focus on levelling-up Northern towns, but an overly narrow and simplistic focus which bypasses rural and shire counties will hamper the country’s economic recovery. This analysis shows that levelling up needs to happen right across all four corners of England,’ he added.

‘To ensure county areas don’t become left-behind communities, we are urging the government to not forget about these places when it comes to the distributing resources as part of levelling-up. In addition, county authorities should be given the powers and resource to lead economic recovery efforts locally, in recognition that each county area will have individual solutions.’


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