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Social mobility in rural areas held back by ‘unfair funding’

A cross-party group of MPs has warned social mobility in England’s counties is being held back by an ‘outdated’ and ‘inequitable’ method of funding councils.

A report by the County All-Party-Parliamentary Group (APPG) and County Councils Network (CCN) blames the current way of Whitehall funds local authorities and growing financial strain on their budgets as helping to embed a cycle of low social mobility.

It claims eight of the 10 least socially mobile areas in England are county areas, and are overwhelmingly majority of those are rural and coastal.

The report says 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.

For example, it claims that councils in London receive £482 per head, whilst metropolitan boroughs and cities receive £351 per head, compared to £182 per person for public services in county areas.

The report, which is the culmination of a six-month inquiry by MPs representing shire counties, features a new ‘social mobility index’ compiled by the think-tank Localis.

The least socially mobile areas include Devon, Kent and Cumbria.

It warns that problems with social mobility in those areas are compounded by a lack of employment opportunities and rural remoteness leading to a ‘brain drain’ where teenagers move out of their home county to university in cities and never return, increasing the ‘dependency ratio’ of counties well above the national average.

In the report, the MPs call on the Government to break outdated perceptions of shire counties as places with little social challenges and deliver a fairer share of funding so they can invest in raising social mobility, as well as new powers in skills and transport.

‘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,’ said APPG chairman, Peter Aldous.

‘An outdated and inequitable method of funding local authorities has disproportionally channelled funding towards London and the major cities; holding back social mobility in county areas, and embedding a cycle of low life chances for residents. This is unfair.’

‘If we are to bridge rural vs 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.’

The chief executive of Localis, Jonathan Werran, added:‘Our research for the commission shows young people in London are pulling away from the rest of the country in opportunity and educational outcomes as soon as they enter school.

‘Young people growing up in coastal and rural areas of England are then further constrained by poor skills infrastructure and in many cases weak prospects for finding good local jobs that pay decent wages.

‘Devolution of the adult skills budgets to all strategic authorities, and a more ambitious reconfiguration of local political economies represent two main opportunities for boosting social mobility and delivering the promise of an inclusive growth that can help bridge today’s unacceptably wide urban-rural divide,’ added Mr Werran.

 

The report – Social Mobility in Counties – is available to read online here.

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