Those living in rural areas are more at risk of losing their jobs due to the coronavirus, a report by a Conservative-dominated group of councils has found.
The study by Grant Thornton UK LLP for the County Councils Network (CCN), which acts for 39 of the biggest English authorities, predicts that almost six million people in England’s counties are working in “at risk” jobs, with 46 per cent of the country’s entire furloughed workforce residing in county areas.
Expressing fears that a significant number of furloughed workers in the counties will not have jobs to go back to once the scheme ends in October, CCN county leaders are calling on the government to provide councils with devolved powers to protect employment.
The leaders say the government must grant councils powers in its White Paper in September, particularly over transport and skills that metro mayors currently have, to avoid attempts at restoring economic growth being “hamstrung”.
Based on the latest statistics to the end of June, Cornwall has the highest proportion of its workforce on furlough (35.1%), with Staffordshire, Worcestershire, Cumbria, Dorset and Devon all also having close to one-third of their workforce on the Government’s scheme, the report, entitled Place-Based Recovery: How Counties Can Drive Growth Post Covid-19, suggests.
The CCN says the Government must avoid the pandemic exacerbating the divide between major cities and England’s shire counties that the Conservatives’ “levelling-up” agenda sought to address.
Cllr David Williams, chairman of the County Councils Network, and leader of Hertfordshire County Council, said: “The scale of the economic challenge posed by coronavirus cannot be overstated and today’s research illustrates how exposed county areas are with over half of those areas’ workforces currently in sectors ‘at risk’. We fear a significant number of those furloughed will not have employment to go back to unless we act now.
“There is a real risk the pandemic simply exacerbates the long-standing economic divide between county areas and the major cities, with urban metro mayors having more powers and resources at their disposal to address the impact of coronavirus.
“County authorities must be a central part of the economic growth jigsaw, alongside the Government’s Plan for Jobs and efforts from business and the education sector. Each area will have differing needs, and we know our residents and businesses well.
“Restructuring councils with devolved powers to new and ambitious unitary authorities will allow us to grasp the ‘levelling-up’ nettle and provide hope to our communities.”
Paul Dossett, head of local government, Grant Thornton UK LLP, added: “While Covid-19 has affected all parts of the country, the impact plays out very differently across different demographics and geographies. How particular vulnerabilities are managed and mitigated, and economic opportunities maximised, will look very different around the country.
“Effective recovery therefore demands an intimate knowledge of place. Covid-19 initially required a central response to managing the spread of the virus but, as we move from managing the crisis to managing the recovery, powers and decision-making need to filter back to local places, enabling them to take action on those issues or opportunities most pertinent to their area.”