Towns are the places most people in the United Kingdom call home and most people go to work. The impact on towns is felt by millions of people every day, in the form of vacant high streets, depleted town centres and antisocial behaviour.
Since the 2008 financial crisis, employment in towns has grown at half the rate of cities outside London, and around a third of that of out-of-town areas. High street vacancy tends to be much higher in towns than cities: in Rotherham, nearly a third of shops are empty, and in Bolton, Grimsby and Stoke, more than one in seven has been empty for three years. Meanwhile, coastal towns typically suffer disproportionately from crime—which is 12% higher on the coast—and public health challenges, as highlighted by the Government’s chief medical officer.
People understandably feel like their town is ignored by Westminster, businesses are not provided with incentives to invest, and young people grow up wanting to leave. Without a change in approach, the country will remain lopsided towards the interests and values of people living in cities who make up a small part of our nation, stultifying other parts of the UK.
That is why the UK Government have supported towns in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland through a series of targeted investments including: the £3.2 billion towns fund that has supported 101 English towns to drive economic and productivity growth, with £1 billion of this funding allocated to the future high streets fund, supporting 72 places to create thriving high streets in the future. A further £3.8 billion of the levelling up fund has been allocated during two rounds to support over 200 places across the UK, supporting regeneration, town centre improvements, improving transport connectivity, and cultural projects. The £150 million community ownership fund is supporting community groups to deliver for their local communities, over £400 million of levelling up partnerships investment is providing bespoke place-based investment for the 20 areas most in need of levelling up, and the UK-wide freeports programme is helping to contribute to the prosperity of our towns.
Our new long-term plan for towns will now go further to demonstrate an enduring commitment to our towns. Drawing from our experiences delivering the levelling up fund, towns fund and levelling up partnerships, and listening to the feedback from local authorities and delivery partners, we will put local people at the centre of their town’s development with long-term flexible funding to respond to the priorities of local people.
We have identified 55 towns across England, Scotland and Wales to develop our long-term plan for towns, backed by £1.1 billion, to drive ambitious plans to regenerate local towns.
The Government will work with local councils and the devolved Administrations to determine how towns in Scotland and Wales will benefit from funding and powers under the long-term plans. In Northern Ireland, we look forward to working with a restored Executive to determine the approach to providing support.
Under the new approach, local people will be put in charge, and given the tools to change their town’s long-term future. They will:
Receive a 10-year £20 million endowment-style fund to be spent on local people's priorities, like regenerating local high streets and town centres or securing public safety.
Set up a town board to bring together community leaders, employers, local authorities, and the local MP, to deliver the long-term plan for their town and put it to local people for consultation.
Use a suite of regeneration powers to unlock more private sector investment by auctioning empty high street shops, reforming licensing rules on shops and restaurants, and supporting more housing in town centres.
There will be a new towns taskforce based in my Department reporting directly to the Prime Minister and I. This will help towns boards to develop their plans and advise them on how best to take advantage of Government policies, unlock private and philanthropic investment and work with communities.
A new “High Streets and Towns Task Force” will also be established, building on the success of the existing version, providing each selected town with bespoke, hands-on support.
Towns have been allocated funding according to the levelling up needs index which takes into account metrics covering skills, pay, productivity and health, as well as the index of multiple deprivation to ensure funding goes directly to the towns which will benefit most, without new competitions or unnecessary hurdles. A full methodology note has been published and we have written to the relevant local authorities.
I will place a copy of the prospectus and methodology note in the Library of the House.
Annex A: List of towns/places
Barry (Vale of Glamorgan)
Note: there is no statistical definition of a city. Two of the selected places have city status but they have been identified on the basis of deprivation and they have a population size of 20,000 to 100,000 as set out in the published methodology.