It’s time to address the areas that are left behind
The fourth report from the Social Mobility Commission has again highlighted the fact that the East Midlands is the most ‘left behind’ region in terms of social mobility. It has uncovered a stark picture of under-investment in young people which means that Newark & Sherwood is one of the least socially mobile areas in the country.
The report identifies a ‘local lottery’ where there is little social progress for people from disadvantaged backgrounds and it highlights poor educational performance (1) as a key factor in constraining social mobility.
Newark and Sherwood needs an urgent injection of sustained investment to overcome the challenge of social immobility. (2) The area has three big challenges which have not featured as priorities for successive Governments:
1. A historic dependence on declining traditional industries which has left a legacy of low skills and low aspirations.
2. Poor educational performance over decades.
3. Under-investment in infrastructure which has resulted in poor connectivity and economic productivity.
The Social Mobility Commission has said “National Government has a leading role to play in tackling the local lottery in social mobility.” The Leader of Newark and Sherwood District Council, Councillor Roger Blaney, agreed and has repeated his call for a major investment plan to address social mobility. Speaking in a response to the publication of the 2017 Social Mobility Index. he said:
“Newark and Sherwood has a strong economy – we’ve created jobs and reduced unemployment to 1.3% (well below the national average). But this strength is undermined by social and structural weaknesses which mean that opportunity is not available to everyone. Many communities in the East Midlands have been left behind as London and the South-East of England have prospered. This is a challenge which needs to be met with urgency.
"I am calling on Government to support our community with a new three-point investment plan:
1. Build on the recent secondary school improvements we have witnessed by ensuring our schools are properly funded and don’t have to make further budget cuts. Inject new funds into programmes to work with our 18-24 year olds so that they don’t become a lost generation.
2. Help us address the chronic infrastructure problems which are holding back our economy, particularly road infrastructure such as the A46/A1 around Newark (3) and the A614 in the west of the district. Help us unlock housing investment by supporting our Housing Infrastructure Fund bids (4) and lifting the borrowing cap on our Housing Revenue Account now so we can build more social housing. (5)
3. Work with our local employers to inject investment into up-skilling our local workforce and improving productivity. Improve the careers advice in schools so young people can make informed career choices.
"Services cost more to run in rural areas and economic opportunities are harder to find for those who really need them. Rural areas need to be the focus of attention for Government to prevent them falling further behind. It’s time we had Rural Deals (6), new funding streams and a Rural Commission to keep the spotlight on areas that are falling behind."
 The report breaks down educational performance in County areas into its constituent districts even though educational policy is determined by County Councils, and more recently by Academies and Trusts. This helps to highlight pockets of poor performance where they might otherwise be hidden by good performance elsewhere.
 The Social Mobility Index Report 2017 states that “there is no correlation between the affluence of an area and its ability to sustain high levels of social mobility.” For example, disadvantaged young people in relatively prosperous areas can be somewhat neglected.
 The A46 around Newark is one of the most important infrastructure priorities for the East Midlands Region. Currently the single carriageway road and sub-standard junctions to the A1 lead to significant congestion and have a major impact on local, regional and national economic productivity. Newark & Sherwood District Council, Nottinghamshire County Council and East Midlands Council have been pressing Highways England and the Government to accelerate investment in a scheme but the improvements are unlikely to be delivered in the next decade.
 Newark & Sherwood District Council has submitted a bid for £35 million to unlock the road infrastructure.
 Newark & Sherwood District Council has been in dialogue with the Government for over a year about becoming a pilot for new flexibilities in delivering social housing. The Council would be able to build an additional 200+ homes for social rent if it could have flexibility around the use of ‘Right-to-Buy’ receipts and an extension to the borrowing cap on its Housing Revenue Account. An announcement was anticipated in the Budget but it did not materialise.
 In the last three years, the Government has announced nine devolution deals and twenty six City Deals in England which have devolved money and powers to a more local level. Over the same period there have been no Deals for Rural Areas.