Levelling up: The Towns Fund

10 May 2021


Reported by Camilla Faidutti, CSaP Policy Intern (April-July 2021)

In the most recent seminar in CSaP’s ‘Levelling up’ series, organised in partnership with the Bennett Institute for Public Policy, Beatrice Andrews, from the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy, shared her perspectives on levelling up and introduced her work on the Towns Fund.

As the Head of Deals at the Cities & Local Growth Unit, Ms Andrews leads a programme which is supporting 101 towns in developing multi-million-pound Town Deals, as part of the £3.6bn Towns Fund.

The Towns Fund was announced in 2019, as part of the government’s commitment to level up communities across the country by driving the regeneration of towns through long term economic and productivity growth. 101 towns in England were selected to develop innovative regeneration plans and proposals for Town Deals of up to £25 million in each place.

The selection criteria involved the ranking of towns based on several factors, chosen to reflect local need and growth potential, such as income deprivation, exposure to economic shocks, skills deprivation, investment opportunity. Following their selection, towns were asked to establish cross-sectoral Town Deal Boards, by engaging with local stakeholders from the private and the wider social sectors, to ensure a successful planning and spending of the funding at the town level. The available funding could help addressing a wide range of issues affecting these communities, such as regeneration, cultural assets, heritage, skills, enterprise infrastructure and connectivity.

So far, 53 deals have been announced from the Towns Fund, with the remaining 48 expected to be confirmed in the next coming months. Ms Andrews believes the applied model of deal making and collaboration as opposed to a competitive bidding process led to the success of the Towns Deals.

Throughout her presentation, Ms Andrews highlighted the importance of evaluating the overall impact of these interventions, given that minimum cost benefits ratios were not used as part of the initial proposal evaluations. She also noted the importance of monitoring and evaluating success going forward, keeping in mind both productivity goals and the impact of these interventions on the lived experiences of local people. Consequently, both growth and socio-economic agendas have been considered thus far when monitoring the success of a deal, prompting discussion on the importance of balancing priorities. For instance, the programme has identified that several places should not only develop big physical infrastructure projects that boost connectivity, but should also include social and community infrastructure as a form of promoting levelling up. Managing trade-offs is often challenging, but the significance of initiatives supporting the well-being of the local community, such as the creation of amenities and green spaces, was collectively deemed important by the stakeholders involved.

The local ownership aspect of the Towns Fund, which focuses on giving space to places to develop their own ideas through local consensus, led to reflections about how local authorities can build and sustain capacity. Good local authorities are likely in a better position than other places, who may find that there is a burden. Nonetheless, it is imperative to acquire capacity to put the structure and vision in place, and to retain that capability so that it can also be applied to deliver future plans.

While the Towns Fund is an evolving agenda, Ms Andrews noted there are reasons to be optimistic about the impacts such intervention can have at a local level. She believes that the Towns Fund will ultimately facilitate learning between towns as well as support collaborations across places, by strengthening existing connections and creating new ones. Further developing the monitoring and evaluation processes will give the opportunity to better measure the overall impact and success of the Towns Fund, so that lessons can be drawn, and then applied to future programmes.

The 2021 CSaP ‘Levelling up’ Seminar Series aims to bring Policy Fellows from different departments together to discuss the challenges of addressing unequal economic performance within regions of the UK. This year's series is hosted in partnership with the Bennett Institute for Public Policy. This series will help to stimulate the policy debate around levelling up by exploring key areas such as the role of infrastructure, the importance of data and measurement, the relationship between trust, social capital and levelling up, and the impact of a transition to a net zero carbon economy on left-behind places. It will also look outside of the UK for examples of how other countries have managed regional inequalities. You can follow the Bennett Institutes blog series here.