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'All the country needs the same levers to support social mobility'

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In our major cities, in our county towns, quiet villages and remote hamlets, the life chances of our young people are being shaped and affected by the unique characteristics of the places and environments which they inhabit.

Localis’ recent reports on local industrial strategy have identified those areas of England that are structurally the weakest, in many cases the small towns and rural places cut adrift of big cities.

But what does this mean for educational, employment and other opportunities for the next generation? And to what extent are their environments, and the strengths and weaknesses of place, supporting or hindering their prospects for fulfilling their life potential?

The All Party Parliamentary Group for Counties asked us to support their Social Mobility Commission – and we were happy to help provide the evidence base for its report which is published today.

Our analysis of key social mobility indicators at ‘strategic authority’ level across county, unitary and city region areas highlighted just how much London and the other city regions enjoy higher levels of social mobility.

The capital’s economy serves as a mammoth ‘southern powerhouse’ raising levels of social mobility around the north, south and north east of London – extending into the home counties, Surrey, Hertfordshire and Essex and also into western London, Hampshire and Buckinghamshire.

We also confirmed the harsh reality of coastal and rural malaise. County Durham, Devon and Cumbria landed in the bottom third. Elsewhere parts of England with significant coastlines, among them Cornwall Dorset, East Sussex Kent and Norfolk, also lagged in the bottom ten of our social mobility index.

As a policy prescription, it is to be hoped that the devolution framework can reinvigorate action to give all parts of the country the same levers to support social mobility. We need now more than ever to see an urgent transfer of powers to accelerate public service reform, infrastructure investment and growth in local economies.

We could make a good start with the speedy handing across of the adult education budget to strategic authorities. Moving ahead, the post-Brexit shared prosperity fund should be receptive to bids that support social mobility.

Our analysis also brought home the extent to which the perception of counties as prosperous areas unbothered with socioeconomic problems masks a reality in which sizeable and worrying pockets of deprivation commonly exist. Naturally geography plays a role, and in these areas public service challenges are made even more onerous by poor transport links and digital connectivity.

The former calls for a ‘Total Transport’ solution. This would mean an integrated, cross-sector, cross boundary approach to passenger transport. It would also mean the introduction of a Freedom Pass-style schemes to help young people access education, employment and training opportunities.

Jonathan Werran, chief executive, Localis

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