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Rural areas are key to ‘levelling up’ – but need powers and resource to match their ambitions

Cornwall features prominently in a new report warning the government that it cannot overlook rural areas in its ‘levelling up’ agenda.

The County Councils Network’s (CCN) new study, released ahead of the budget, lays bare the economic challenges facing communities in rural areas like Cornwall.

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Cornwall Council leader, Julian German, said: “The inequality that exists between regions underlines the danger of adopting a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to policies across UK regions.

“To truly ‘level up’ the country, it requires a combination of an intimate knowledge of place, and the freedom and powers to make decisions within our area that benefit people in Cornwall.

“I will continue to stand up for Cornwall for fairer funding and greater devolution.”


Barry Lewis, a spokesperson for the County Councils Network, said: “Since the general election, there has been a clear focus on ‘red wall’ seats that the government has won. But if it wants to genuinely back up its rhetoric and level up England, then a narrow focus on these areas will not work.

“Communities in the likes of Devon and Cornwall in the South West, to Lincolnshire and Nottinghamshire in the East Midlands, need as much focus on why they have been left behind.”

He added: “These councils know their areas intimately…but need powers and resource. The devolution white paper provides a perfect opportunity for a step-change.”

Cornwall Council features as a case study in the report as the first rural authority to secure a devolution deal from government, giving it more power over funding to deliver front-line services to residents.

The report, titled ‘Place-based growth – unleashing counties’ role in levelling up England’, says: “The council plays an important role in shaping Cornwall’s future and embodies the aspiration for Cornwall to have greater levels of devolved governance which reflects its unique offering.”

It adds: “The rural and dispersed nature of the area presents a challenge to raising productivity, and whilst significant progress has been made in relative economic performance, Cornwall remains one of the poorest regions in Northern Europe.”

The report sets out how growth, as measured by Gross Added Value (GVA), in rural and county areas has fallen behind the rest of the country by 2.5 per cent over the last five years.

GVA in the 36 rural areas highlighted in the report has grown by 14.6 per cent between 2018 and 2018, compared to 16.7 per cent for the rest of England.

The research finds no north-south divide, as the areas experiencing some of the lowest levels of economic growth are Cumbria (8.2 per cent), Gloucestershire (9.2 per cent), and Wiltshire (9.7 per cent) – showing that one-size-fits-all policies will not work.

It outlines how regional authorities are best placed to deliver change and results on the ground for residents, but they need “place-based resource, stronger powers, and reforms” – tailored to each community.

The report therefore calls for significant budgets and powers be devolved to regional authorities, with greater consideration of the infrastructure needs in rural areas.

It also argues that the devolution white paper must consider how greater devolution of powers to other regions could help to ‘level up’ the country.


Story posted on March 10, 2020