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How to make a success of county deals

Economic recovery and levelling up is central to the government's plans to build back better as the country emerges from COVID-19. And there's a commitment to ensure a place-based delivery of this agenda that empowers local government and enables strong leadership. The solution is 'county deals'.

These deals will build on the government’s support of high streets, towns, and local infrastructure, by offering longer-term devolution across larger geographies. The ‘guiding principles’ are strong local leadership, devolution across ‘sensible’ economic geographies, appropriate governance, joining up services, innovation, and financial and administrative efficiency.

County Deals report: options for governance, powers and funding

To support this initiative, the County Council Network (CCN) commissioned Grant Thornton to undertake research on the options for governance, powers and funding for successfully implementing these deals:

  • Define a ‘sensible geography’ – analyse strengths and weaknesses of five different geographic types
  • Establish appropriate governance models – by assessing the suitability of four different models
  • Ask for the right mix of powers – as they consider and balance the uniqueness of place, assess ambition and deliverability

To find out how local authorities and central government can get the most out of County Deals, download the report [ 15237 kb ].

County Deals report with the Institute for Government and CCN

Institute for Government, CCN and Grant Thornton held a round table on 21 November 2021 to discuss Country Deals. This discussion brought together local leaders, Whitehall officials, business representatives and other stakeholders.

An insights paper based on the discussion and accompanying research highlights that progress on county deals will depend in the first instance on consistent government commitment. The research found that:

  • Central government should build upon the principles it has announced for county deals by publishing a ‘devolution framework’ setting out the parameters within which deals will be agreed. Some local leaders still feel they are operating in the dark and are reluctant to spend time and political capital developing proposals that may go nowhere.
  • Strong cross-departmental leadership will be required in central government. The levelling-up department headed by Michael Gove is taking the lead, but the support of the Treasury in particular will also be vital for ambitious devolution deals to be concluded.

In addition, a number of factors that local leaders should take into account are also highlighted.

This report was produced by the Institute for Government (IfG), working in partnership with the County Councils Network and Grant Thornton, as part of the IfG devolution research programme.

To find more about the round table discussion, download the report or get in touch with Rob Turner.

Quantifying Levelling up

The much-awaited Levelling up white paper has identified data – alongside evaluation – as one of five pillars that will underpin this new policy regime. The paper commits to doing this so that local decision making can be improved, and wants to arm local leaders with “the information they need to deliver, experiment, and evaluate swiftly and effectively.” It's a commitment we whole-heartedly endorse.

If Levelling up is to truly be effective as a policy, then it's vital that a deep and rich understanding of place sits at the heart of it. Local leaders must be able to identify the priorities for their places, make robust cases for investment, understand what works and why, and measure change.

These issues formed the basis of our roundtable discussion at the County Councils Network (CCN) annual conference that took place in November 2021. The discussion sought to explore the challenges and opportunities facing local authorities in the context of levelling up.

Revisiting the insightful debate that the roundtable fostered – post publication of the White Paper – sheds valuable light on what needs to happen next; how you move from policy to delivery; and how you enable local government to enact genuine change on the ground.

The consensus of the participants was that the Levelling up agenda combined with effective devolution offers a real opportunity for places to realise their ambitions. However, some of the concern around missed opportunities, that flagged at the roundtable, will still exist. Therefore, if levelling up is to be a success it's more important than ever that:

  • the promised devolution is rolled out at pace
  • government doesn't adopt a ‘one size fits all’ approach and interventions are tailored to local needs
  • competition between places is minimised through transparent and clear messages
  • a combination of capital and revenue funding is made available and that places have the flexibility to use that funding to respond to local circumstances and support local ambitions
  • decision making is joined up across government departments.

If government can do this then the White Paper will offer local leaders a genuine opportunity to transform their areas and really make a difference to the people and places they serve.

Read the full report [ 4536 kb ]