Yet, when the head of such a large council does speak out, they should be listened to with respect and today’s warning by Coun Les about social mobility – and the postcode lottery facing young people when it comes to skills and training – is another case in point.
He is a leading spokesman for the County Councils Network which has just produced a report highlighting the extent to which England’s ‘shire’ counties are being denied sufficient funding to take account of the cost of serving urban, rural and, in some cases, coastal communities.
Unless such areas can offer more opportunities for 16 to 24-year-olds to further their studies, and learn new skills, the brain-drain will continue and councils will, according to Coun Les, find it even harder to “invest in our economies and move away from low-skilled, low wage jobs”.
He’s right. The policy focus on major cities by successive governments has often come at the expense of county councils because national politicians perceive them to be affluent areas, when picture-postcard scenery can mask significant pockets of deprivation.
It’s why Chancellor Philip Hammond could, and should, have put social mobility at the heart of this week’s Budget – there was little, other than changes to the apprenticeships levy, to suggest that the Government understands the priorities of younger people.
And it’s even more reason why Ministers should heed Coun Les over devolution. A significant supporter of One Yorkshire, he says the need for countywide deals – with or without elected mayors – is paramount if there’s to be a joined-up skills policy so every teenager, irrespective of where they live, can have access to the same opportunities. It’s simple. The longer Ministers prevaricate, the greater the number of young people who feel let down by the Government.