The government has launched a UK fund in an attempt to boost struggling towns. The £1.6bn ‘Stronger Towns Fund’ is due to be allocated using a needs-based formula, which communities can bid for. It has been speculated that more than half of the money is to be spread across towns in the North of England and in the Midlands over seven years
Although the funding will provide a well-deserved cash injection into many towns, the funding has caused some concerns. One concern is that the bidding for funding encourages competition between places. This sadly contradicts the work underway via the regional mayor models (i.e.-Manchester & Liverpool) that are encouraged to work together collaboratively. Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland seem an afterthought. Whilst, in some cases they have specific country funding, this is conveyed as a UK fund yet the other components of the country are simply mentioned in a one liner.
Another question is, if this funding is simply being seen as a sweetener to the hard blow of Brexit? Towns that are already struggling are expected to be worse off after Brexit has passed. Is this the government’s way of trying to soften the blow for towns that will face hardship / job losses post-Brexit?
The bidding process for any funding can be lengthily with a lot of time, effort and money required to complete and submit the application. Perhaps a review of long-term business rates would be more beneficial for businesses in these towns rather than more sparse funding to bid for.
In addition to the ‘Stronger Towns Fund’, there have been three funds announced since the 26th December 2018 / this year alone. This includes the new funding incentives ‘Clean High Streets’ and ‘The High Street Fund’. Whilst it’s positive that all of this funding is now available to areas and businesses, often they have narrow criteria and limited eligibility to apply. Surely these funding incentives could be more productive if they worked together and had shorter turnaround time from bid submission to award?
With local authorities continuing to face huge pressure from reduced budgets and staff, is it reasonable to expect them to reallocate scarce resources to funding bids in the hope that any award made will cover the bid cost.
It will be interesting to see what shape our high streets and town centre’s will be in by 2020 when the High Street Fund kicks in. Will high streets, BIDs and councils have enough resource and footfall to implement their plans and will their strategies be relevant for the ever-changing high street landscape?
To find out more about The Assembly Line’s work with high streets contact us.