Shift in funding to local level needed for towns

The National Infrastructure Commission says that levelling up towns will require a shift in government’s approach from announcing multiple ringfenced pots of money to handing power to local areas.

Recommending that the current array of around 15 funding streams for local transport are streamlined into just two, the NIC suggests a ‘dual track’ approach of devolved, flexible budgets based on population and local network size, and a targeted scheme to help areas with poor transport connections or where new industries could spring up.

The commission proposes that government should support local authorities outside London by enabling them to spend up to £6 billion per year on transport investment over the next five years, ensuring that investment keeps pace with increased investment in centrally managed transport infrastructure.

The argument is that the increased funding would enable county and unitary authorities to plan and deliver long term infrastructure strategies developed locally, that reflect the particular economic and social needs and opportunities of towns in their area.

The NIC says that central government should make available strategic advice and support for local authorities that need additional capacity to develop these strategies, and the strategies should set out clear, transparent outcomes against which councils can measure their progress. It also says that the government should also help ensure universal provision of new networks and services, including direct support for accelerating the rollout of gigabit broadband and electric vehicle charging points in towns where it is needed.

Ministers should also help ensure businesses make the most of these new services and supporting innovation pilots for new communication technologies, such as 5G wireless technology, and new on demand transport models.

Bridget Rosewell, Commissioner, said: “Levelling up cannot be done from Whitehall. Every English town faces a different set of challenges and opportunities and local leaders are best placed to develop strategies to address these. Competing against other councils for multiple pots of cash creates a focus on the short term, continual uncertainty, and burns up staff time. Local councils need to be empowered to deliver transformational plans for the future and held accountable for doing so.”

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