Local areas will continue to access EU structural funds until the end of 2023. The UK Shared Prosperity Fund, to be launched in 2022, will replace the EU structural funds and will apply to the whole of the UK. The UK Community Renewal Fund is an additional fund for 2021-22 and will provide an extra £220m of investment.
Announced at the Spending Review, the Levelling Up Fund will ‘invest in infrastructure that improves everyday life across the UK. The £4.8bn fund will support town centre and high street regeneration, local transport projects, and cultural and heritage assets’.
The introduction of the UK Community Renewal and Levelling Up Funds raises familiar questions around the nature of local and central collaboration. While new in terms of funding streams, the two funds require local authorities to bid and compete with each other, rather than collaborate. The funds present problems for local authorities as successful applications will be based on different eligibility criteria, timescales, engagement requirements and other rules.
The risk with this approach is that faced with a bewildering range of eligibility and bidding criteria, councils spend too little time growing skills around strategy and business case development, as they respond to the specific directions in each of the funds’ prospectuses.
The UK Infrastructure Bank provides the opportunity to look further ahead, allowing the sector to work with the Bank to develop capability and capacity and help develop a real collaborative approach. The scope of its activities is broad, and all sit at the top of the public policy agenda.
While return-on-investment will be a key metric, the Bank will have to work with local partners on a broad portfolio of projects. Success will depend on collaboration; financial return will only be achieved if projects are successful in their localities. The Bank should be a centre for expertise and convening advisory support and sharing good practice.
Local Partnerships works with local and combined authorities to support teams to develop their ideas and better grasp investment and funding opportunities. This will be increasingly important if councils are to maximise the benefit of conventional funding streams alongside innovative financing arrangements and the UK Infrastructure Bank.