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The government has allocated nearly £1bn of its remaining flagship levelling up fund to 55 areas across the UK, aimed at boosting the economic prospects of struggling communities.
The latest round of funding comprises one-off regeneration grants to communities in England, Wales and Scotland, largely in sums of about £20mn per area, the government announced this week.
The investment is part of the government’s “levelling up” policy created by former prime minister Boris Johnson. The levelling up fund has previously attracted criticism from MPs and the National Audit Office over its pace of delivery and efficiency.
Levelling up secretary Michael Gove said the move was aimed at “delivering local people’s priorities and bringing transformational change in communities that have, for too long, been overlooked and undervalued”.
Projects provisionally allocated in this third tranche of the £4.8bn levelling up fund include £20mn towards a range of regeneration schemes in South Shields, in north-east England, including relocating the further education college to help bolster the town’s high street.
Cheltenham, in south-west England, has had £20mn earmarked for the National Cyber Innovation Centre, a hub of digital and cyber businesses, while Chorley, Bolton and Blackpool, in north-west England, are all set for town centre regeneration grants.
Councillor Tracey Dixon, leader of South Tyneside council, said the money for South Shields was “fantastic news” and would help boost skills and decarbonisation plans.
The first two rounds of the levelling up fund were allocated via lengthy bidding processes that had required local authorities to submit complex and time-consuming bids.
Ahead of the third round, Gove’s department promised to put a simpler process in place. The department reconsidered projects that had tried but failed to achieve funding in the last phase, announced earlier this year.
However, inflation has risen since those bids were originally compiled in summer 2022 and the department said the latest allocations would only be confirmed following further discussions with councils.
Local government researcher Jack Shaw said it was “welcome” that councils had not had to use scarce resources bidding for money. However, he added, it was not “clear whether the schemes the government has chosen are viable, given local authorities submitted them in August 2022”.
Every UK region and nation, bar Northern Ireland, due to its current lack of an executive, had money earmarked for at least one project, including eight each in north-west England and in Yorkshire and the Humber.
The North East, the country’s poorest region, had only three projects provisionally approved, with a total value of £59mn. London and the South East, with the strongest economies, together had six projects given the green light at a value of £100mn.
The levelling up department said the north east had received the highest per capita funding of any region over the course of the fund, adding that its assessment of projects recognised “that deprivation exists right across our country – with spending going towards people and communities who need help, wherever they are”.
The announcement on Monday totalled £975mn in new project funding. The department said it had held back £100mn for allocation towards cultural projects.