A cross-party group of MPs have launched their findings in to social mobility in the counties following a six-month inquiry. The contrast of social mobility between London and the Counties is stark with 29 of the 32 London boroughs classed as being social mobility hotspots, whilst areas within counties accounted for 52 of the 65 social mobility coldspots identified.
The report starts with the recognition that there is a misconception that shire counties are wealthy areas. It identifies poor levels of social mobility in coastal areas and found that city regions perform better than counties, particularly as distance from the capital increases.
Since 2010, local government has witnessed large reductions in funding as a result of government efforts to reduce the national deficit. Since 2010, all government grants have been reduced by around 50%. But for county authorities, reductions in core funding between 2015 and 2020 have been more acute; for instance local government grants to counties will reduce by 42% during this period, double the rate of London boroughs and higher than all other types of councils.
- Counties’ ambitions to deliver better social mobility are often hampered by the funding pressures they are under. As a result, the government should ensure that the Fair Funding Review delivers a more equitable share of funding for shire counties, in particular using new indicators to better recognise deprivation and rural delivery costs.
- The government should consider extending the length of time that funding pots and initiatives designed to improve social mobility operate for.
- The government should ensure that the post-Brexit Shared Prosperity Fund is properly open to county councils to support increased social mobility in the coming years.
- The government should support counties to ensure that they have the powers and funding to improve connectivity for rural areas, both within counties and across local government boundaries. This could be through Total Transport schemes, and the government should ensure it builds on pilots and to determine what could be rolled out to other local authorities.
- The government should consider how it can provide a Freedom Pass-style scheme for young people to help them access education, employment and training opportunities.
- The government should consider how it can better support councils to deliver the roll-out of super-fast broadband.
- The Social Mobility Commission highlighted the challenge of delivering social mobility in rural and coastal communities. In response, DEFRA and MHCLG should work on behalf of government and commission further work on what is holding back social mobility in rural and coastal areas and what would help to drive it forward.
The social mobility lifecycle
- The Common Devolution Framework should recognise the potential of devolution in county areas to support regional growth and improve social mobility. It should include a flexible approach to Governance.
- Many councils are investing resource to ensure that there is good take up of the 30 hours free childcare offer. The government should review the scheme as it goes forward to ensure that councils have the support that they need to make sure the scheme is operating properly.
- The Office of Students needs to ensure that universities work with schools in shire counties as well as cities to ensure that university options are as well understood as other work and training opportunities.
- Responsibilities and budgets for skills have been devolved to metro mayors. The government should devolve the same responsibilities and budgets to county councils and unitary authorities.