An inquiry by a group of cross-party MPs say the perception of counties as affluent areas has masked “deep-seated socio-economic challenges and deprivation” in shire counties, while the additional costs of delivering rural services are also not fully recognised in the way funding is allocated to councils.
The report, by the County All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) and County Councils Network (CCN) blames the current way of funding councils and growing financial strain on their budgets for embedding “a cycle of low social mobility”. Eight of the 10 least socially mobile areas in England are county areas, and are overwhelmingly rural and coastal, the report found. Sheffield City Region is ranked among the bottom 10, whilst Hull city region, which encompassed East Riding of Yorkshire, Leeds city region, North Yorkshire, are all ranked “mid to low” range.
Early years and primary education, admission to university for disadvantaged students, job density and employment in skilled industries were among the factors taken into account when the rankings were made. The report found there is no north-south divide in social mobility; instead showing a visible city versus rural divide.
Stark differences within county lines are also noted. While North Yorkshire ranks middle of the road when all factors are combined, it has in Craven a social mobility hotspot, and in Scarborough, a coldspot.
Because of this, the report argues that “one-size fits all” policies do not work, and that rural areas must be fairly funded, alongside devolution of skills and greater investment in transport links, it says.
North Yorkshire County Council leader Carl Les, the CCN’s spokesman for children’s service and education, said: “Funding alone clearly won’t be the answer. The Government should outline a more flexible approach to county devolution deals to support social mobility, and such deals should not be dependent upon signing up for an elected mayor.
“It is time to move away from the perception of counties as wealthy areas and address the real pockets of low attainment and deprivation in our communities. A reset of funding for rural authorities is needed.”
Chairman of the County APPG and Tory MP for Waveney, Peter Aldous MP, said: “For a long time now, the perception that counties are affluent and wealthy has meant they have been overlooked in terms of directing resource and policy towards improving social mobility. If we are to bridge rural versus 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.”
Last week the Yorkshire Post reported that “basic unfairness” was affecting the life chance of young people growing up across Yorkshire, with those in Hull ranked almost bottom in England for education and employment opportunities by the Learning and Work Institute.
The government is currently reviewing the way councils are funded, with a new system set to be in place in 2020.
Communities Secretary, the Rt Hon James Brokenshire MP said: “We recognise the pressures that local authorities are facing - especially in adults and children’s social services.
“During Monday’s budget we announced an additional £650m in council grant funding which will help them deliver the services communities need.
“The Government is also working with councils across the country to reform the funding system to ensure resources are distributed to reflect the needs of particular council areas.”