Future Forum North: Government must take  ‘a much more strategic view’ on funding

By Ann McGauran | 24 March 2022

Central government needs to adopt a ‘much more strategic’ approach to funding local areas that places less reliance on bids for small pots of cash, says a council chief.

Speaking at The MJ’s Future Forum North in Manchester, chief executive of Harrogate BC Wallace Sampson said local government should be concerned that ‘the Government seems to be keen on a competitive bidding process’.

He added: ‘This is sometimes with the need to submit investment plans, as seems more likely to be the case with the UK Shared Prosperity Fund, and a lot of that is set against criteria that are set nationally by government.’

Mr Sampson called the approach a resource-intensive process that does not address local needs ‘nor does it offer us the flexibility that local decision makers need to allocate money according to where it’s required most’.

He added: ‘There needs to be a much more strategic view on funding, and devolved funding in particular so that there are not too many small pots and it’s actually aggregated at a much more strategic level.’

Speaking at a session on levelling up, place-shaping and the future of towns and cities, Mr Sampson said he thought this change  ‘would have the potential to remove that competitive approach that exists in the system at the moment’.

He argued for a recognition that the funding ‘is probably a relatively small part of the overall government pot’ and other government departments particularly the Department for Work and Pensions and the Department for Education  ‘should  have buy-in to that whole review process as well’.

Local leaders sometimes have difficulty in being able to manage strategically ‘because of this fragmented funding and policy landscape’, he said.

There is now ‘a new clear need’ to link that strategic approach to the emerging devolution agenda, particularly in county areas, ‘and use it as an opportunity to direct funds to combined authorities’, Mr Sampson continued. ‘This would enable strategic priorities to be decided locally across a much broader geography rather than encourage this competitive bidding process.’

Calling infrastructure  key to delivering a stronger economy, he said support ‘at that local area to achieve innovative, well-connected quality infrastructure particularly in transport and digital is absolutely essential’.

He said the Levelling Up White Paper’s emphasis on unlocking £1.8bn of investment to deliver 160,000 homes across England should be welcomed as ‘a great opportunity for us in the North’.

But he added that while he appreciated that housing on brownfield sites ‘needs to happen, there shouldn’t be a disproportionate focus on brownfield sites as this really narrows the ways of looking at how we can tackle  the housing crisis and economic growth’.

‘We’ve got areas with high affordability but very few brownfield opportunities. We need to look for opportunities for greenfield site delivery as well.’

Chief executive of Rotherham MBC Sharon Kemp said buying their own home was still a challenge for many of her area’s residents. ‘So [I’m] thinking about levelling up, and that bit about shared ownership and what can we do to continue to see shared ownership being a really valuable way onto the ladder’.

‘And it’s not just around ownership. It’s around good quality housing that people can actually rent.’

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Infrastructure Housing Future Forum Funding Levelling up