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Are you getting the help you need to level up?

June 16, 2021

By Nick Skelton

Is the Levelling up Fund the only financial support available for councils? What else should they consider?

The phrase ‘levelling up’ has become commonplace, even making it into the Queen’s speech. The idea is to reduce inequalities across the UK and a dedicated levelling up fund has been established in support. But is this fund the only financial support available and what should councils consider when thinking about which projects will best help their communities?  

The Levelling Up Fund

The £4.8bn Levelling Up Fund was announced as part of the 2020 Spending Review to bring forward local infrastructure with a visible impact on people and their communities. It sets aside funds to 2024, targeting places where investment can make the biggest difference to everyday life. Operating across the UK, it is a competitive fund, targeted to places with the most significant need for economic recovery and increased connectivity, regeneration, and opportunity.

In Round 1 Stantec supported eight successful submissions attracting more than £120m in Levelling Up funding for town centre regeneration, active travel and culture and heritage projects. There will be at least two further rounds of funding and Stantec will be working with local authorities at each stage, indeed we’re presently working with a number of authorities advising on the content and presentation of Round 2 submissions. We’re also working with several others who are still identifying the projects their communities most need. We know that Local Authorities have many questions ranging from ‘How many bids can I submit?’ and ‘What round of funding should we go for?’ through to ‘How do I access capacity funding?’ and ‘Can I pool bids with another Local Authority?’ Stantec has been pleased to provide the answers.

It’s clear that to take full advantage of the Levelling Up Fund, local authorities need support. Support to understand how the fund works; support to ensure their bid has the best chance of being approved; and support to refine the vision and shape the projects best placed for community success in levelling up.  Are you getting the help you need to ‘level up’?

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In any funding submission, a clear understanding of the relevant assessment criteria and guidance is key to success. As is the ability to demonstrate strategic fit with local priorities, deliverability, and value for money.

Understanding the bigger funding picture. But local authorities shouldn’t lose sight of other opportunities to secure the funds they need, beyond the Levelling Up Fund. In England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, other funding programmes are available to support town centre change, local transport improvements and cultural and heritage projects as well as other interventions. Understanding this bigger funding picture can be valuable in supporting strategic infrastructure planning at a local level.

The good news is it’s easy to gain insight into all the funding programmes that are available. Stantec often sits with local clients and calls on its experience and its Funding Opportunities Toolkit to show where money has already been committed around the country and to identify areas where funding hasn’t been applied or taken up. A GIS-based tool like the Toolkit, combined with an understanding of local ambition can help local authorities obtain the funding they need to deliver against objectives.

In any funding submission, a clear understanding of the relevant assessment criteria and guidance is key to success. As is the ability to demonstrate strategic fit with local priorities, deliverability, and value for money. Creating a powerful business case is a critical step in securing funding - as Stantec demonstrated last year when successfully helping six local authorities secure £51.24 million through the Government’s Future High Streets Fund (FHSF).

While funding is undeniably important, identifying those projects which will truly make a difference for communities is the first step.

Drawing on the skills, advice and experiences of consultancies that are experienced in the funding ‘rules of engagement’ can be constructive, efficient, and, with funding success, ultimately profitable, while also providing much needed additional resource. Consultancies like Stantec can provide connections with organisations like Homes England or Highways England; offer advice on what departments, such as the Department for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities, expect in terms of delivery; and provide insight into the approach taken by the Green Book Review, which the Levelling Up Fund in particular seeks to embody.

Shaping your vision

While funding is undeniably important, identifying those projects which will truly make a difference for communities is the first step. Stantec is working with several councils who are targeting the second round of Levelling Up funding. It is at this early stage where an understanding of those projects with the greatest potential for success can be most helpful. 

Good consultancies can help local authorities realise their vision by bringing relevant technical expertise and local knowledge to bear, helping to design projects which promote economic and social change for communities, and packaging them as fundable and practical business cases. The regeneration of Newcastle-under-Lyme’s town centre is a great example - by getting the right support, the council was able to secure funding for the infrastructure needed to create new jobs and introduce cultural and leisure facilities, urban parks, and modern business space which benefits residents, workers, students, the elderly, and all other town-centre users alike.

So, are Local Authorities getting the help they need to level up? For those who aren’t, the help is there. Capacity funding is available in some cases and local consultancies like Stantec are on hand to help. With technical advice, a strategic approach to local projects, and a clear view of available funding opportunities, every council has the chance to unlock potential and help the development of their places and communities.

  • Nick Skelton

    With over three decades of worldwide experience in planning & economics, Nick has worked on strategy development and business case making for planning, regeneration, and infrastructure projects.

    Contact Nick
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